Speed of sound …

Nighttime is dark and silent in the town where I grew up, surrounded by towering trees and mountains. As children we knew to come home when the streetlights turned on, as it would soon be too dark to play. The wilderness behind our house that we spent endless hours in during the day became sinister in the inky darkness of night, and I needed to turn on all the lights to push away the dark (much to my parent’s dismay). When I heard about Sasquatch I imagined that he was sitting outside our windows watching, and every night I went around to close the curtains so he could not see inside. (Yes, I still keep all the curtains closed at night!)

I once saw an episode of The Waltons where the children were running around with Mason jars catching fireflies. My imagination was captured by the idea of flying insects that could light up the night, and I kept looking for them wherever we went with no success. When we went camping, we would draw pictures in the dark using the sticks we held in the fire, making up stories to go along with them.

Light and sound were sources of security and imagination. Some of my favorite childhood toys were powered by a simple lightbulb, and I could choose to follow the patterns on the Lite Brite templates, or create my own designs. With my Easy-Bake oven, I had to come up with my own creations once the mix packages were used up. So many different things were melted inside that Easy Bake Oven! The sounds that gave me security were the voices of my parents – as long as I could hear them talking in the other room, I felt safe.

Imagination is the process of forming new images in the mind that have not been previously experienced, or at least only partially or in different combinations. According to J.K. Rowling (2008), “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Click on image to go to site

When we imagine, we create an idea of what something might be like; for children, imaginative play often takes the form of role play as they try on different identities. As adults, imagination can be exploring the possibilities of something before trying it out, such as imagining the possibilities of new technologies in the classroom and how they might support student learning. Being open to imagination means being open to trying new things, and throughout this course I have tried to imagine how each tool can support my personal learning and the learning of teachers and students at my schools.

How long before I get in?
Before it starts, before I begin
How long before you decide?
Before I know what it feels like

Reflecting on the process – Getting started

When I started this Web 2.0 course, I would categorize myself as a consumer of content. I read blogs, searched Google, watched YouTube videos, and used Diigo to bookmark pages that I then marked private. I was a lurker, choosing not to participate or put myself on the web, unsure of how my identity might be used.

I began by making the decision about which blog platform to use and the visual design of my blog. These decisions did not come easily, as I was unsure at that point what I wanted to communicate in my blog. As a follower of many blogs, I find that each one has a visual identity that is closely connected to the voice of the writer, and I was unsure in the beginning what that voice would be. I found myself questioning how to create a blog post that had a strong hook and represented my personal voice, yet also communicated a variety of scholarly research to meet the requirements of a graduate level course. I crafted my narrative, pasted it into my post, and my first few posts came across as journal entries.

Where to? Where do I go?
If you’ve never tried then you’ll never know
How long do I have to climb
Up on the side of this mountain of mine?


My greatest challenge each week was making decisions amongst the myriad of Web 2.0 tools. Having only one week to explore multiple tools was difficult, as I found myself quickly overwhelmed by the number of choices available. I often relied on bloggers that I follow to see if they had used or written about particular tools, as I have come to respect and rely on their opinions. I tried to focus on comparing at least two options that performed the same task, in order to make decisions about which tool met my needs best.

Some weeks were easier than others, as I was more motivated to try out the tools. Photosharing was something I was interested in from a teaching perspective as I have always enjoyed using images to support learning, but it did not inspire me to upload more photos as I rarely use my camera to take photographs. Social bookmarking made sense to me because I had already been using Diigo to bookmark sites, and highlight and annotate text. I already experience the value of it for my personal learning, but what I came to realize is that I was not participating in the social nature of the tool. I was setting everything I marked as private, and therefore not sharing it with other Diigo users.

I then moved into Podcasting, which turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated and a lowlight of the course (more detail on this to follow). As I explored Wikis the following week, I struggled somewhat with determining how to present them to teachers who were already using Google Docs with their students on our Share site. I did prefer the visual appeal of a Wiki and the nature of how they can be hyperlinked, which put them in contrast to the linear nature of a Google Doc. At this point, I really started to think about the nature of reading and writing in a 2.0 world, and how to approach literacy instruction.

Click on image to go to site

The graphic outlining the pillars of an effective Web 2.0 classroom started to guide my thinking, and as I moved forward I started to think more purposefully about the tools. I could see how information literacy and web citizenship could be supported by social bookmarking, and also wanted to explore the role of teamwork in the tool by making my bookmarked notes and sites public. I really enjoyed playing with Multimedia and Presentation tools, as they tend to be the kinds of tools that teachers and kids can see as being engaging and useful for learning. It made sense that they are intentional web activities, as students are creating to communicate to an audience with these tools.

Social networking was challenging due to the limitations placed by blocking at the district level, so it became difficult to see applications of a number of networking tools when they are blocked from student use (or there is an age requirement for registration, leaving most of my students out). Twitter has been a surprise as I never thought I would see the value in 140 character micro-blogs, but I have learned the power of developing a professional learning network via Twitter and my Google Reader. I am learning every day courtesy of the people I follow, and am setting personal goals of cultivating this network and becoming a more active participant with my blogs and tweets.

Look up, I look up at night
Planets are moving at the speed of light
Climb up, up in the trees
Every chance that you get is a chance you seize

Highlights along the way

Probably my greatest highlight was seeing my evolution as a blogger. As I explored further, I found myself thinking purposefully about the narrative I wanted to create. I felt it was important to continue with the hook I had developed of using music as a metaphor to link to the tool I was exploring, and to continue with the ongoing connection to childhood memories that relate. What I came to realize was that my writing was evolving into 2.0, as I was including more hyperlinked text and images to contextualize that narrative. Rosenberg (2010) defends the importance of linking in digital text:

“What pages shall we connect our words to? We have the entire rest of the Web to choose from! And the choices we make say worlds about our writing.

The context that links provide comes in two flavors: explicit and implicit. Explicit context is the actual information you need to understand what you’re reading. Here’s what I mean, if I can go all recursive on you for a moment: Let’s say you landed on this article out of nowhere. Someone sent you a link. Links make it easy for me to show you where to catch up. If you don’t have time for that, links let me orient you more quickly in my first paragraph with reference to Carr’s post.

By implicit context, I mean something a little more elusive: The links you put into a piece of writing tell a story (or, if you will, a meta-story) about you and what you’ve written. They say things like: What sort of company does this writer keep? Who does she read? What kind of stuff do her links point to — New Yorker articles? Personal blogs? Scholarly papers? Are the choices diverse or narrow? Are they obvious or surprising? Are they illuminating or puzzling? Generous or self-promotional?

Links, in other words, transmit meaning, but they also communicate mindset and style.”

I came to realize the power of Web 2.0 is in the connections that are made, and the active cultivating of those connections. As I click on those links, I discover another writer sharing the same perspective, or perhaps providing a different way of looking at it. I may even find a counter-argument that allows me to understand the original post more by developing more background knowledge around the issue. All of these are important digital literacy skills that we not only need to be participating in, but teaching our students how to manage.

The sign that I couldn’t read
Or a light that I couldn’t see
Some things you have to believe
But others are puzzles, puzzling me

Unexpected lowlights

Podcasting turned out to be a greater challenge than I had anticipated. I thought it would be as simple to upload to my blog as video, but I was wrong. I ended up exploring multiple tools and felt very frustrated, ready to give up on WordPress as my blogging platform as it did not seem that anything would easily upload.

What I found is that there would be a delay of hours for some podcast hosts, which does not make it ideal for a classroom situation. I am certainly reconsidering how I will have students recording audio for book reviews and interviews, and am planning to do some testing with both Blogger and WordPress before I make a decision on my final blogging platform.

All that noise and all that sound
All those places I got found

Learning from others

In my last blog post, I referred to the seven virtues of blogging, and number one was Be Grateful. My professional learning network began with the people I follow professionally – bloggers like Joyce Valenza and Will Richardson, and Twitterers like @buffyjhamilton and @donalynbooks. They continually share insights and links that have led me to more ideas to think about and people to follow.

They have helped me to see networked literacy in action. Utecht (2010) explains that “Networked literacy is what the web is about. It’s about understanding how people and communication networks work. It’s the understanding of how to find information and how to be found. It’s about how to read hyperlinked text articles, and understand the connections that are made when you become “friends” or “follow” someone on a network. It’s the understanding of how to stay safe and how to use the networked knowledge that is the World Wide Web. Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.”

I have been able to live networked literacy with my colleagues in EDES 501, through great discussions, sharing of links and ideas, and thoughtful reflections on their blogs. I have learned about HootSuite as a web-based option for managing my Twitter feed, and I now prefer it to TweetDeck as I can check it on any computer. I have learned about Wondersay for animating text, Wylio for searching and embedding Creative Commons images into my blog, and Readability for viewing webpages without all the clutter. I now have guiding questions for thinking about the use of Web 2.0 tools that I will use when collaborating with teachers:

  • To what extent does this tool enable us to do something we weren’t able to do before?
  • To what extent does this tool enable us to do something we could do before, but can do better now?  (e.g. more authentically, more efficiently, deeper exploration, better meeting student learning styles) (Dr. Judi Harris, Wetware: Why Use Activity Structures?)

What is most important though, is the supportive nature of the network and how important the development of relationships are to creating and sustaining that network. This allows participants to disagree and provide different points of view without feeling threatened or attacked. This is where I feel that Twitter is lacking in terms of being a true professional learning network. Although I appreciate the endless number of links and ideas shared, I feel that the constant stream prevents me from developing those relationships and can also result in miscommunication if someone does disagree with a point of view. For my personal style, I definitely prefer those longer periods of time to discuss, question and respond.

All those signs I knew what they meant
Some things you can’t invent
Some get made and some get sent, ooh

The Alberta Government is in the midst of an extensive review of the education system in Alberta, resulting from province-wide consultations with students, parents, educators, and community members. A new vision has been created, along with a graphic outlining the desired competencies of an educated Albertan in the 21st century:

To inspire and enable students to achieve success and fulfillment as engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spiritwithin an inclusive education system.

Click on image to go to site

The imperative in developing these competencies within each student is to ensure that teachers are familiar with tools and instructional strategies that support 21st century literacy and numeracy. I believe that the role of a teacher-librarian is more important than ever in supporting teachers and students to develop these competencies.

And birds go flying at the speed of sound
To show you how it all began
Birds came flying from the underground
If you could see it then you’d understand

Top tools I will be sharing with teachers

Web 2.0 tools provide students with the opportunity to create ways to share their thinking with others. The idea of creativity can be easily misconstrued as being the domain of people who have specific talents. What is creativity? Shaun Tan, the author/illustrator of innovative picture books such as The Arrival, talks about his approach to creativity:

“The principle that ‘originality’ is more about a kind of transformation of existing ideas than the invention of entirely new ones is one that I can relate to as an artist and author. I’m wary of using words like ‘inspiration’ or ‘creativity’ without at least trying to demystify them first. They can easily convey a false impression that ideas or feelings appear spontaneously and of their own accord; “creation” in particular is a term that originally entered our language with divine connotations. My own experience is that inspiration is has more to do with careful research and looking for a challenge; and that creativity is about playing with what I find, testing one proposition against another and seeing how things combine and react.

Click on image to go to website

In the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, create is now considered the highest level of thinking. Students are expected to be able to think critically about information, evaluate that information, and then create new understandings using that information. By scaffolding this understanding with the potential technology tools that can support students, teachers will be able to see how Web 2.0 tools can be used to support higher-order thinking.

I believe it is important to establish a groundwork of pedagogy around the use of technology with teachers prior to introducing new tools. Helping teachers to see higher-order thinking and the instructional methods to get students to those levels of understanding makes it easier to demonstrate the use of particular tools. As they understand that understanding, analysis and evaluating of information are required in order to synthesize it into something new (create), they see how creativity can be more than simply imaginative thinking.

Tools that I would introduce to teachers to demonstrate this link to higher-order thinking would be multimedia/presentation tools such as Animoto, Vuvox, and VoiceThread. Students need to be able to take all their information and synthesize it into the essential elements that communicate the story. This digital storytelling requires all levels of thinking, and is also highly engaging for students to demonstrate their understanding.

Inquiry learning is another way to introduce them to thinking about instruction – as we examine each phase of the inquiry cycle, we can demonstrate how technology can be used to support learners at each phase.

Click image to go to site

Tools I would introduce to teachers to support inquiry learning would be social bookmarking tools such as Diigo and Evernote in the Connect and Investigate phases. As they search for relevant information, they can quickly highlight text, bookmark and tag pages, and move on to the next item to scan. For group or partner projects, I would show teachers how to set up a Wiki page for students to collaboratively contribute and construct their understanding as they inquire.

Click on image to go to site

The most important tool I want to show them though is blogging, as I feel it supports higher-order thinking, inquiry learning, and networked literacy. Students could blog throughout the inquiry learning process, as detailed by Valenza. They can read and analyze blogs as mentor texts to guide their own writing, and create blogs that incorporate hyperlinks that provide external and internal contexts that enhance the meaning of what they are writing.

In addition, the other important piece to share with teachers is not a Web 2.0 tool, but the importance of teaching cyber-citizenship and safety online. One example is the CyberSmart Curriculum, which contains a series of lessons designed for different age levels around:

How long am I gonna stand
With my head stuck under the sand?
I’ll stop before I can stop
Or before I see things the right way up

Future plans for using Web 2.0 tools

My first goal is to begin developing our library web presence, which will start with a blog on WordPress.org to be hosted on our web server. I would like to add in SocialPress as a social networking feature as well, and also link to Shelfari. I have already met with library club members and shared Animoto, VoiceThread and Vuvox as potential tools for creating book trailers, and they are selecting one of the tools to begin creating book trailers to be shared on the blog.

I’m also interested in starting another personal blog, as I have enjoyed this process of reflection that arises from blog writing. I want to be able to build more of a professional learning network through Twitter by following more people and also Tweeting more, so that I can develop more followers that I can then direct to my blog. I am interested in becoming more participatory, and I realize that I must cultivate that by actively pursuing more of a professional learning network.

Ideas that you’ll never find
Or the inventors could never design
The buildings that you put up
Or Japan and China, all lit up

“Do, or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

As an avid user of technology, I’m a big believer in jumping in and doing it. I learn best by doing, failing, problem solving, and achieving. If it comes too easily, I get bored. If it is too difficult, I give up. It’s that Zone of Proximal Development that Vygotsky refers to, and with many teachers those first steps may be too terrifying to even imagine. However, by being caught up in that fear of failure, we never move forward as learners and can find ourselves stuck in what Dweck refers to as a “fixed” mindset where it becomes almost impossible to take any risk as we imagine only the worst when we fail.

J.K. Rowling delivered the commencement address to Harvard University graduates two years ago, entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” In it, she talks about how her failure drove her to imagine possibilities, and in that she came up with and wrote Harry Potter.

She also talks about the importance of imagination – not the imagining that comes when we create fantasies, but the imagining yourself into the experience of another person. The ability to empathize and take action to help others:

“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was an art teacher sent to a concentration camp in Terezin in 1942. Before she left, she packed all her art supplies, knowing that the children in the camp would be lonely and terrified. The living conditions were terrible, and schooling of any kind forbidden, but Friedl would secretly teach art lessons to the children, allowing them to sign their names to their work rather than the numbers that were now tattooed into their arms. She gave them hope, and her story was depicted in the picture book Fireflies in the Dark.

Friedl was sent to Auschwitz and perished, along with a young girl she taught named Hana Brady. Hana’s suitcase ended up in a Japanese holocaust museum, where the children became quite curious and concerned about what had happened to the girl who owned the suitcase. Driven by their questions, Fumiko the museum guide sought to find the answers, and in the end made a connection on the other side of the world with her surviving brother in Toronto. Reading Hana\’s Suitcase shows not only the persistence that Fumiko demonstrated in finding answers, but also alternates with the narrative of Hana’s young life.

In 1998, a group of middle schoolers in the small community of Whitwell, Tennessee were studying tolerance, and wondered how to honor those who were killed in the Holocaust. They decided to collect six million paperclips to create a memorial representing each person who died. As each class moved on, the next year’s group took on the task, and in the end they made connections with Holocaust survivors and German citizens who helped them to track down an actual rail car from Germany, and finally dedicated their memorial in 2004. Their story can be found in Six Million Paperclips: The Making of a Children\’s Holocaust Memorial.

All of these are examples not of Web 2.0, but of the imagination and networking that makes Web 2.0 tools possible. It is about educators dedicated to helping children imagine the possibilities, and allowing them to explore their identity and place in the world. It is the skills and intent behind Web 2.0 tools that makes them powerful – if the intent to share and network is not inherent in the choice and implementation, the tools will not be successful.

And birds go flying at the speed of sound
To show you how it all began
Birds came flying from the underground
If you could see it then you’d understand
Oh, when you see it then you’ll understand

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Washington, D.C. where I met people from all over the world. I visited the Holocaust Museum, walked through the memorials for fallen soldiers from the Vietnam and Korean Wars, felt awe standing in front of the statue of President Lincoln and seeing his words etched into the walls, and then stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the exact spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. These iconic symbols of permanence, their words preserved that carry on their legacies. All marked by their names, to remember who they were. At dusk, I was sitting on a hill overlooking an ampitheatre in Virginia, watching a performance of West Side Story. And finally, I saw my first fireflies as they danced around us and became part of the show. Magic.

I’d like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns slowly
It’s hard to say that I’d rather stay
Awake when I’m asleep
‘Cause everything is never as it seems

Participating in Web 2.0 means the world will move more quickly, perceptions will be altered, and there will be endless flashing lights and voices to explore.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection …

My desire to communicate using the written word started in grade 2, when the encyclopedia salesman sat in the living room with my parents. I wandered in and saw volume H of the New Book of Knowledge, and as they talked I browsed through the volume until my attention was captured by Handwriting. I immediately grabbed the book to take into the other room to start trying out the letters. My parents of course stopped me, and I’m sure the salesman started calculating his commission in his head. We did end up buying the set, and I diligently practiced every letter.

I moved on to typing in grade 3, when I found my mother’s old typing practice book and started practicing on our manual typewriter. The pinky keys were especially hard to press down with my small hands, but I persisted as I was fascinated by the ability to create messages that were uniform and professional looking.

When I turned 10, I received my first diary with a lock. I would record the daily events of my life, trusting that the little gold key would keep all my secrets secure. Of course, my younger brother figured out how to pick the lock, so I needed to find different places to hide my diary from his prying eyes. As I grew older, I moved on to notebooks that I plastered with stickers and doodles, and then as an adult to fancy journals purchased in specialty paper stores.

I wrote in isolation – stories, poems, journal entries – preferring not to share what I wrote with others. My purpose for writing changed after I moved away to go to school, as writing became a way to stay connected with friends and family. I had an audience that was interested in what I was doing and thinking, no matter how trivial it might be. As we wrote to each other, some of us maintained our natural communication style (very teen girl!), and others wrote in a stilted “How are you? I am fine.” format:

Now, as an educator, I have turned to the following voices to guide me in teaching writing to children: Donald Graves, Douglas Fisher, Lucy Calkins, Kelly Gallagher, Vicki Spandel. Calkins talks about guiding students to identify their writing territories, those places that all writers return to again and again. To explore these writing territories, I use the examples of the authors such as Patricia MacLachlan. She tells the story of carrying around a bag of prairie dirt to remind herself of where she comes from, and how she became a writer because of her strong connection to her own sense of place.

When I was ten years old, I fell in love with place. My parents and I drove through the prairie, great stretches of land between small towns named wonderful names like Spotted Horse, Rattlesnake, Sunrise. We stopped once for drinks that we fished out of cold-water lift-top tanks, and my mother and I walked out onto the prairie. Then my mother said something that changed my life forever. She took a step, looked down at her footprint, and said, “Someone long ago may have walked here, or maybe no one ever has. Either way it’s history.”

I thought of those who might have come before me and those who might come after, but mostly I was face-to-face with the important, hopeful permanence of place, place that I knew was there long before I walked there, and would be there long after I was gone. I realized, in that moment, that the Earth is history. The Earth is like a character who has secrets; the Earth holds important clues to who we are, who we’ve been; who we will be. We are connected to the land and to those secrets.

It was after this event that I bought a diary and began writing all sorts of truths about myself, as if I, too, might leave clues about myself behind. I was becoming a writer. All because of place. Now I cannot write a story unless I know the place, the landscape that shapes the story and the people in the story. And to remind myself of the place that changed me, I have carried a small bag of prairie dirt with me for years. (Machlachlan, 1998)

Maiers (2007) talks about how “exploring and articulating WHO YOU ARE AS A WRITER helps us understand that writing is “lifework” not “deskwork”.   This transformative conversation begins by sharing with students the following:

  • WHAT I write about (topic)
  • WHO I write for (audience)
  • WHY I write (purpose)
  • HOW I articulate my messages (Format/Genre)
  • WHERE/WHEN I do my best writing (Style,Habits)

As students develop their identities as writers, they begin to explore those writing territories, and the best way for them to do this is to connect with other writers. To read what others have written, model themselves after a writer they admire (referred to as”standing on the shoulders of giants”), and to give and receive feedback. Most importantly, to building trusting relationships that support each learner to take new risks as a writer.

The best way for students to expand their writing territories is to begin participating as a member of a network or community. Although the classroom is a place to start, we must give students opportunities to develop their voice as writers by writing for different purposes and audiences. An ideal way to do this is through blogging, where the reach is far greater.

My personal learning process with blogs and RSS

I have a diverse list of blogs that I read on a daily or weekly basis, each with their own purpose and voice. I have commented on blogs, participated in a couple of blogs that I was invited to join by posting brief entries. Until this course, I had not considered writing my own blog. There is an uncertainty in putting my thinking out there for a global audience to read.

What I find ironic about this is how I was once terrified of speaking in front of even a small group of adults, to the point that I would need to medicate myself before a presentation in university. I’m now comfortable speaking in front of large or small groups, have presented at conferences, in front of our superintendent and board of trustees, and feel no fear about doing so.  I have always enjoyed writing and have published in a number of professional journals, so I know that I am able to write effectively.  I’m not certain where this discomfort about publishing my words online came from, but I think it’s the anonymity of the Internet, the unknown factor of who might be reading my words. When I present to a group, I can read the crowd, ask questions, adjust as I see a need. Publishing means it’s out there and I don’t know how it is being received.

Exploring RSS

I started with an RSS aggregator in the summer, when I was taking an inquiry course that recommended I follow a number of bloggers in the field. An RSS aggregator such as Google Reader allows you to address the challenges of following a number of blogs:

  • How do you keep up with all this information?
  • How do you filter and organize it?
  • How can you avoid having to go back to blogs to check if the owner has updated with a new post? (Tolisano, 2010)

Tolisano provides a good tutorial on her blog on Subscribing via RSS & Google Reader to Classroom Blogs. Basically, it requires setting up an RSS feed to your aggregator – in my case, Google Reader. Blogs and webpages have an RSS icon on their page that allows you to subscribe to the feed.

When I started to subscribe to blogs using Google Reader, I began with those that were of professional interest – bloggers who wrote about libraries, technology and literature. I found that as I scrolled down in my reader I could easily get caught up on the latest entries, star those that I wanted to save for further reading, or click through to the actual page to read the entry and/or bookmark it to Diigo.

As far as RSS goes, I have decided that it is a great tool as part of my professional learning network along with Twitter. I can keep track in real-time, and then select what I want to pay attention to or just scroll past. I have created a number of folders to organize all my subscriptions, so that I can simply click on the topic I want to view that day so that I am more efficient with following my feeds.

These days, the new blogs that I am subscribing to via RSS feeds are found through Twitter, or by clicking on a link found within a post within Google Reader. I’m finding that it is an efficient way to explore the topics of interest in my professional learning. However, if I have failed to check my reader in a few days, it can become quite overwhelming to go through everything.

Exploring blogging

My search began with determing which blogging tool would work best for me in this course, with my eventual goal being to determine which I might use in my work as a teacher-librarian. I decided to try out both Blogger and WordPress, as these were the two blogging platforms I was most familiar with. Many of the blogs I read are on one of these two platforms.

With Blogger, I already have a Google account so setting up a Blogger account was simple. I used my gmail account information to sign up, started a new blog and chose a design template. I was up and running in minutes and ready to start my first entry.

I then went to the dashboard to add a new post. As I explored, I found that although I liked the fact that I could change the design of my blog and the font style, I felt that my options were limited.

Before I created my first post, I decided to go to WordPress and compare the features of both to determine which blogging platform would best meet my needs for this particular blog. I decided to explore WordPress as another option.

WordPress.com is another free blogging platform, and was also very simple to create an account. There is also a dashboard, but it has far more to figure out than Blogger’s simple interface:

I found myself starting with the appearance as I had done with Blogger, finding more themes to choose from. Once I found one I liked, I began to play with widgets that could be added to the page. I liked seeing Twitter feeds and blog rolls on the blogs I follow, as this is how I have found many of my new connections, and I feel that they add an interactivity to what could become a rather stale format. I decided to start slowly and just add a couple of widgets that I recognized (there are a number of widgets that I’m not sure what they do!)

Although I found Blogger to be easy to use, I decided to go with WordPress as I felt like there was more customization that I could do to my blog. With the theme I chose, however, I am unable to change the style of the font which has been somewhat frustrating, as I am not a fan of Times New Roman. I have also run across a few challenges along the way, as there are certain web 2.0 tools that work better with Blogger or require upgrading to a wordpress.org account in order to access the features. Embedding podcasts in WordPress proved to be quite difficult and I was ready to throw in the towel and run back to Blogger.

Blogs in my own personal life and learning

In his TED talk, Sinek (2010) points out how all inspiring leaders and organizations (e.g. Apple, Martin Luther King, Wright brothers) act the same way. He refers to the “golden circle”, and point out how we are inspired to follow those who provide us with the “Why” to do something. Whatedsaid (2010) reflected in a blog post by saying, “Someone who had listened to the TED talk asked me yesterday about the ‘why’ behind this blog. Sinek says  ’If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’.

I am an avid blog reader; at last count, I have over 100 blogs that I read for personal interest and at least 50 that I read for professional learning. These are all writers that inspire me, who provide me with a reason to read as I know that I will either learn something, be emotionally moved, or laugh and be entertained. I read blogs about design, such as Design*Sponge, food blogs like Serious Eats, blogs that make me laugh with a good dose of snark such as Cake Wrecks Go Fug Yourself, and The Onion. There are blogs that make me smile, like Cute Overload and 1000 Awesome Things, and bloggers who take big risks such as Attack of the Redneck Mommy.

My approach to reading each differs, however. I use Google Reader for my professional learning blogs, and have them organized under categories so that I can either choose to go through all of them, or select a particular category when I am pressed for time. Some of my favorite blogs around libraries are listed in the sidebar of this blog. With these blogs, I do a quick scan as I scroll down in my reader, and if it interests me I either star it, or click through and then bookmark the post using Diigo for reading later. My approach to reading these professional blogs is to quickly scan for information relevant to coursework or work, categorize it, and then move on until I have scanned everything. Then I can go back and read posts as the need arises.

As I looked back at my starred items, I found a post that I had starred.

As I read, I recalled a post that Hunt referenced about conversations he was having with Will Richardson around blogging as “connective writing”. I then click over to my Diigo account to find those posts again. This hyperlinked writing via a post sent to my Google Reader allowed me to revisit these posts that I had initially clicked on to star or bookmark, but had not really spent any time reading or thinking about. I had easy access to them however, through the use of technology.

My personal blogs are not in my Google Reader. For me, each of these blogs has a specific voice, and I need to be in that place to read them. I tried reading them in my reader, but the posts did not feel authentic to me and it was just disconnected. Many of these blogs I have followed for years, and I have a routine for when and how I read them. There is often an ongoing narrative and I may need to go into the archives to remind myself of how a previous post connects. There is a visual style as well that is unique to the blog. Many of the bloggers I read have numerous widgets displaying tweets, their blog rolls, or interesting links and I often click through to find other bloggers of interest.

I am now considering having more than one blog – one for my library, and one that I will write for my own reflective practice. The “why” for my writing is often to process my thinking – in university, I did not highlight passages in textbooks, but instead wrote out the key ideas in a format that made sense to me. When I finally owned a computer, I would type up my notes. As a teacher, I need to take the curricular objectives for the subjects I am teaching and type them out in my own tables, as this helps me make sense of what I am required to teach. I can then use this information to plan my units, develop assessment materials, and write student-friendly objectives by simply copying and pasting into a new document to then remix and change.

Click image to go to slideshow

A professional blog will allow me to share my thinking about teaching, learning and libraries, with a heavy dose of literature thrown in. I’ve always got a great book to share! This slideshow has me thinking about different purposes for writing my blog, and the “why” of doing it. I’m thinking about continuing with WordPress for my school blog, as I can host WordPress.org there and it will give me the features I want to incorporate (easier embedding of podcasting, incorporating social networking). I may go with Blogger for my personal blog though, as it will be integrated with my other Google accounts and therefore easier to manage and update.

Blogging to support teaching and learning

Rainbows are visible whenever there are water droplets in the air and the sun is shining at a low angle. According to Wikipedia, a rainbow is formed when “the light is first refracted entering the surface of the raindrop, reflected off the back of the drop, and again refracted as it leaves the drop.” Refraction is when a light wave changes direction as it passes through another medium, and reflection is that light wave bouncing off a surface. In both situations, the direction changes, and this change in direction reveals the visible spectrum of light – the rainbow.

Blogging can be a way of helping students to see their learning in a new way. As they put their thoughts and ideas out into the blogosphere, they may find their thinking reflected back to them via RSS feeds where they are tracking the same idea on other blogs. Or, they may find through the comments that their thinking is changing direction, as other perspectives are shared. Nelson (2009) shares how “It’s not about the expertise of the writer. It’s about the expertise of all the writers who come, read, and respond with a comment. It’s FABULOUS conversations that stretch my mind, challenge my thinking, and get me to rethink the way I approach topics. That is why I blog.”

Richardson (2008) states that:

“Yes, we write to communicate. But now that we are writing in hypertext, in social spaces, in “networked publics,” there’s a whole ‘nother side of it. For as much as I am writing this right now to articulate my thoughts clearly and cogently to anyone who chooses to read it, what I am also attempting to do is connect these ideas to others’ ideas, both in support and in opposition, around this topic. I’m trying to engage you in some way other than just a nod of the head or a sigh of exasperation. I’m trying to connect you to other ideas, other minds. I want a conversation, and that changes the way I write. And it changes the way we think about teaching writing. This is not simply about publishing, about taking what we did on paper and throwing it up on a blog and patting ourselves on the back.

Fernett and Brock Eide’s research found that blogs can:

  • promote critical and analytical thinking
  • be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and asosciational thinking
  • promote analogical thinking
  • be a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information
  • combine the best of solitary reflection and social interaction (in Richardson, 2009, p. 20).

In order to develop these skills, students must have the opportunity to participate purposefully and fully in blogging. A closed blog for a classroom community is a place to begin, as it allows for students to develop the skills of connective writing, especially the commenting and following up on comments in future posts that move the blogging experience beyond that of simply journalling. However, our students are already hyperconnected and need support and guidance to understand how to build connectedness in their learning across networks. As Richardson (2009) puts it: .

“Writing stops; blogging continues. Writing is inside; blogging is outside. Writing is monologue; blogging is conversation”

Considering how to bring blogging into the classroom requires a thinking about the “why” – are students simply writing to publish, or will there be opportunity to share, reflect, collaborate and comment? Will their writing be open to a larger audience, and if so, how will comments be managed? How do we scaffold the learning for teachers so they see the purpose of a blog as being more than a class website or journal?

Valenza (2010) provides an example of having students blog the research process, and provides five reasons for doing so:

1. Blogging inspires reflection and focus on process.

2.  Blogging helps learners organize and manage the process.

3. Blogging is transparent.

4. The best of these projects create pathfinders that might be shared by other researchers.

5. Blogging inspires interaction, social (constructivist) knowledge building, and the kind of intervention Carol Kulthau saw as critical in the information search process.

The idea is thinking about how we can move beyond journalling to complex blogging, which Richardson says is “extended analysis and synthesis over longer periods of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments.”

Concluding questions to ponder

Once a year “The Wizard of Oz” would be broadcast on television, and it was a ritual to make popcorn and sit down to watch it with my mom. Dorothy longs for a place somewhere over the rainbow, yet searches for a way to return to the familiarity of home. When she took her first tentative steps towards Oz, she connected with others who were also seeking something (a heart, a brain, courage) that they didn’t know they already possessed. She was able to convince them to join her on that journey, and also led them to realize at the end that they already had what they were looking for. She helped them by showing them “why” they needed to go, not what they needed or how they would do it. That indelible image of Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion skipping down the yellow brick road together.

Sierra (2008) provides the following seven virtues for blogging (and for travelling together down the yellow brick road):

You should always blog for yourself, but if you want more readers, you should also blog for them.

Virtue 1: Be Grateful

Virtue 2: Be Humble

Virtue 3: Be Patient

Virtue 4: Be Generous

Virtue 5: Show Respect

Virtue 6: Be Motivating

Virtue 7: Be Brave

The bloggers I choose to follow have the brains, courage and heart, and I have now completed my tenth post and am contemplating more blogging in the future. In the meantime, I am wondering about that reward waiting at the end of the rainbow!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Islands in the stream …

I remember my first crush – it wasn’t on a celebrity, or a boy at school. It was Laurie in Little Women, who was soon joined by Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables. I was drawn to their playfulness, loyalty, and long-suffering love for Jo and Anne, and was heart-broken when their romantic overtures were rejected.

As I moved into my teen years, I would save my babysitting money to buy copies of Tiger Beat magazine. My friends and I would memorize every detail about Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, and Scott Baio. I plastered their pictures on my walls and created elaborate fantasies of how we would someday meet. When we saw them on television, we screamed.

At our Book Fair last month, young girls lined up in droves to order extra copies of Justin Beiber books and posters. They had every detail memorized about his interests, background, and goals. Their dedication to Justin is no different than what I felt, but what is different is the immediacy of access to information about him. I had to wait for the next magazine to be published; now, there is a constant stream of information, discussion and debate taking place online that is accessible with the click of a button.

Twitter has not only become the gateway for information and discussion, it has become a source for those love-struck girls as many celebrities are on Twitter (or at least, have an assistant or public relations person tweeting on their behalf). “Celebrity tweeting has been equated with the assertion of the authentic celebrity voice; celebrity tweets are regularly cited in newspaper articles and blogs as “official” statements from the celebrity him/herself. With so many mediated voices attempting to “speak” the meaning of the star, the Twitter account emerges as the privileged channel to the star him/herself.” (Muntean and Petersen, 2009).

There is a sense of relationship felt by the followers of celebrity tweets; a feeling of direct access to the celebrity. When disparaging or negative comments are made about that celebrity, the response online is swift and vehement. Justin Bieber is often a highly trending topic, along with Robert Pattison and anything Twilight related. This artificial sense of intimacy is fed by that 24/7 access, and celebrity lives are discussed, scrutinized, and critiqued in real-time. Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson are all recent scandals fed by the Twitterverse and blogosphere.

My personal learning process with Twitter

This was my impression of Twitter when I first heard about it – a place for narcissistic people to share all the mundane details of their lives. Although the media began reporting heavily on the trend, I felt it was not meant for me. However, I first signed up for a Twitter account over a year ago when I heard that Stephen Colbert was tweeting. I started by following him, and really had no intention of going much further. Soon enough, I started seeing other tweets that interested me, and ran across a retweet from S#*$ My Dad Says, where a man who was living at home again with his elderly father tweeted the crusty and hilarious comments his dad made. I laughed out loud and immediately began to follow his tweets as well. Who knew that in a year’s time, they would be offered a sitcom starring William Shatner based on this series of tweets?!

Things began to change when I learned about searching using hashtags. On a particularly blizzardy day when I was leaving work, the radio was not giving me a timely update and I was trying to determine the best route home. I had remembered hearing about a #yegtraffic search on the news, and when I searched I found a number of posts in real-time letting me know where the major traffic issues were. I could now see how Twitter could be used to access information, and I began searching for other local updates that I could access.

The Twitter website describes it as “the best way to discover what’s new in your world. Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting. Simply find the public streams you find most compelling and follow the conversations.” http://twitter.com/about

As I started to follow a number of writers and bloggers active in teacher-librarianship, technology and education, I began to see how Twitter was becoming far more than answering the question of “What are you doing?”  I found that there was an endless source of interesting ideas being shared, with links to the original sites so that I could explore further. However, I was becoming overwhelmed quickly by the sheer volume (do these people ever sleep?!) and the format on Twitter meant that everything was mixed together and not easy to follow.

Klingensmith (2009) said, “You’ll hear people talking about the Twitter “stream”.  This is derived from a beautiful metaphor in which the tweets people send out can be considered drops of water in a stream.  You’re standing on the bank, enjoying the stream as it passes, but you can’t worry about enjoying every drop of water that’s there. Don’t worry about the tweets you missed – I promise that there are always, currently, very interesting things to read.”

An overview of Twitter in 60 Seconds:

What I realized is that I needed a way to locate those drops of water in the stream, to create my island where I could have them come to me. Creating lists to organize tweets by topic was the first step to helping me sort through the noise. I was now able to click on a list and see only those tweets related to that topic. I could also click on one person and see only their posts. This was making more sense to me, but I still found the switching back and forth made things confusing.

Enter Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. I found two different social media tools that provided the solution I required. Tweetdeck was a free download onto my computer that required me to log in using my Twitter account. Once I started, I could see a number of default columns already set up for me that allowed me to track incoming tweets, my own tweeting, and twitterers that might be of interest to me. Once I logged in, a pop-up and chime would indicate incoming tweets, so that I could continue working on something else and still be notified when tweets were coming in.

I then figured out how to import my individual lists from Twitter into Tweetdeck, so that I could look at them side-by-side.

I also tried Hootsuite which is a web-based application that also allows me to create columns from my individual Twitter lists, and I can check it from anywhere. I can also add my Facebook and WordPress blog, which should be quite useful when I begin working with my library’s online presence.

Now that I had a more effective means of following tweets, I then turned to the idea of tweeting. I did not have a reason to tweet – my friends and family are not on Twitter, and it is blocked at work. I felt like I should just continue to lurk and follow the great ideas being shared.  I was unsure about how to begin and whether I might just be shouting into the wind. The 140 character limit felt challenging, as I do like to write, and I worried about being superficial. As I looked at the tweets that have been useful or interesting to me, they all had a direct purpose in communicating information, often by sharing a link to another site. Knowing that there are only 140 characters, I knew that I would have to explore sites that allowed me to create a tiny url to be pasted into a tweet. Two options that I found were:

  • TinyURL – if you want to tweet a link, but it’s very long, this will shorten it to 25 characters.
  • Bit.ly – this also shortens a link, and it allows you to specify part of the new URL.  If you sign up for an account, you can track how many clicks your shortened URLs get.

I first tried retweeting which was easy to do, but did not allow me to add a reason for the retweet which I would have liked to do, so I tweeted again to add a little context. I also wanted to see how I could share photos using Twitpic, and found that it was quite easy to do.

Click on image to go to page

I have only dipped my toe in the stream as it is fast-moving and I want to ensure I understand my purpose before diving in and becoming part of the flow.

Twitter in my own personal life and learning

When I first heard about Twitter, I envisioned it as all these people shouting at each other with no real conversation happening. After all, how meaningful can a conversation be when it is limited to 140 characters?  I had no interest until I started to follow humour writers, which introduced me to the entertainment value of Twitter.

When I worked as a consultant, I followed the daily Twitter updates for a small soup shop downtown so I would know what was being served that day. Alberta Education has a Twitter feed for the work being done across the province to revamp the education system from K-12, and I was following that as well for my work. Other than that, I wasn’t really doing much with it.

As @melaniemcbride said: “Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of espresso” (in Walker, 2009). From following the links in tweets shared, I have read articles, learned about new tools and strategies, and found other interesting people to follow. Twitter is now becoming my first stop for my professional learning, along with my RSS feeds. I can quickly scan a list on HootSuite and find interesting links, and it is much quicker than going into blogs and reading a post.

Walker goes on to share:

“Drew Buddie (@digitalmaverick) has mentioned several times that he believes his network to be more powerful than Google, and I am beginning to see why. Once your Twitter network grows past a critical mass, you can ask them detailed questions and get higher quality information back than a bog-standard Google search would generally provide, with the inbuilt assurance that it is a respected member of your network providing the information. On a broader scale, Twitter searching provides information about time-linked trending topics that Google cannot.” Nine Great Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Twitter

Another way to become involved in an active social network on Twitter is to participate in weekly conversations that are searchable using a hashtag, such as #edchat and #tlchat. These take place at a certain time and educators with a Twitter account can join in the conversation. Before starting, it is a good idea to review some etiquette around participating, and to also have TweetDeck or HootSuite as the conversations can go by rather quickly. #edchat Hashtag Do\’s and Don\’ts

What I am finding useful is to be able to view the links shared via the #edchat Daily and #tlchat Daily where they are compiled in a newspaper format that I find much easier to read. For example, today I found some potential solutions to a problem I have been having with Wallwisher:

Click image to go to page

Click on image to go to website

In order to make your personal learning network more effective, it is important to cultivate those connections. An active social network requires participation beyond simply retweeting the posts of others. Vincenzini (2010) outlines 40 useful things you can share on twitter besides blog posts, and Tolisano (2009) talks about the importance of cultivating a strong personal network as it support you in gaining an audience for those student project and provides them with “global awareness, increased motivation, and the value a network can have as a source of information and resources.”

Twitter to support teaching and learning

Twitter is not currently being actively used by teachers in our district, and therefore a first step would be to introduce them to  the above Wordle and show examples of how it can be used for their personal and/or professional learning. Searching by hashtags, tweeting a question or problem to #edchat, or simply following a particular person may be the first step to showing them how it can be useful in their teaching. The Twitter Handbook for Teachers also provides a helpful overview and tips to guide them through the process of using Twitter as a step towards building their personal learning network.

When I questioned a number of students, they indicated that they don’t see the point of Twitter, as they are already updating their status on Facebook and communicating with their friends via text. This appears to be confirmed by research, and a 2009 study found that only 8% of teens aged 12-17 were on Twitter, with the highest percentage being girls 14-17. When asked why they did not tweet, they responded:

Click on image to go to website

In addition, Twitter is blocked within the district due to the student’s ability to access inappropriate content, and our students under 13 are not allowed to create accounts for social media using their school email address (per our appropriate use agreement).

So could Twitter be used in a K-9 environment? The question perhaps is better reframed not by the tool, but by the purpose of the tool. If micro-blogging has value, perhaps the tool used to micro-blog can be different but the purpose remains the same.

Carta (2008) refers to Edmodo as “Twitter for students and teachers … it’s basically a private micro-blogging service for schools with built-in security features that give teachers privacy controls over their virtual classrooms. One of the nice features is that students don’t even need an email address to join the classroom. All they need is the special sign-up code that the teacher generates when they create the environment.”

Edmodo is a social networking tool for educators. A teacher could set up an Edmodo account and add students, who can then participate in a protected environment while practicing the higher-order thinking of synthesizing their thinking into a 140 character message. Students could micro-blog as they are reading (the thoughts of the main character, key details in expository text), and then view the responses of the entire class. At the junior high level, our students could be on netbooks and be micro-blogging as they view a video or presentation, similar to the back channel of Twitter.

But how might we actually use Twitter in the classroom? The Twitter for Education Wiki shares a list of ideas to start with:

  1. Project brainstorming
  2. Sharing online resources
  3. Connecting to others around the world
  4. Publishing or sharing links to published work
  5. Publicity for important events, blog posts, podcasts
  6. Twitter can serve as a resource to get help
  7. Twitter can serve as your support group when struggling with a difficult taks
  8. Twitter provides a way to virtually attend conferences, workshops
  9. Back channel during lecture (using event specific hashtags)
  10. Back channel during videos/slideshows
  11. Back channel during student presentations

The use of Twitter as a resource could be done through a teacher account, with questions posed to the Twitter community using a hashtag. Then, the teacher could view those responses for appropriateness before sharing them with the class. This allows for Twitter to be used in a safe manner and shows students how it can be utilized as a resource for information or problem solving.

There are also a number of ideas shared in the following presentation that could be adapted by classroom teachers:

Click to go to presentation

Concluding questions to ponder

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is a question long debated. From a scientific perspective, a sound wave must be heard in order to be considered sound; from a philosophical perspective, the question becomes whether something can exist without being perceived.

If one is not followed, do they make a sound? Do they exist? When it comes to Twitter, there is a risk that your tweets will not be heard. Dembo recommends that you “need to follow/be followed by about 100 people at the least for Twitter to begin to be valuable. ”  He continues to say, “Of course, the best solution in the long term is to build up your own community. The only real way to do that is to maintain your own presence, to reach out to others, and to follow people and give them the chance to follow you.”

And if that tree falls in the forest, can it make a big enough noise to bring people to it and use it as an island to cross the stream together?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’m so glad we had this time together …

click on image to view video

The Carol Burnett show premiered the year I was born and carried on for 11 seasons. I grew up admiring Carol and her team of performers – who can forget how Harvey Korman would crack up in his scenes with Tim Conway? They worked beautifully together and complemented each other’s strengths, and were willing to be as silly and playful as needed in order to make the audience laugh.

That importance of play was a common theme in my childhood. We regularly played games as a family; board games, card games, sports. My parents showed us how to play with each other by modelling turn-taking, following the rules, accepting failure and being a gracious winner. And most importantly, they showed us how to play by letting us go out on our own without their supervision. We would spend endless hours in the playground and the wilderness behind our house playing games of imagination where we created the rules, or games where there were set rules and players were invited. There were no adults to lead these games, and as a result we learned how to negotiate, problem solve, cooperate and compromise as we had to learn to work together in order to have fun.

That balance between structured and unstructured play aligns with psychologists such as Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky whose work led to the development of constructivist and social constructivist theories. Vygotsky emphasized the critical importance of culture and the importance of the social context for cognitive development, and the role of adults such as parents and teachers as conduits for the tools of the culture, including language.

If Vygotsky is correct and children develop in social or group settings, the use of technology to connect rather than separate students from one another would be very appropriate use. A constructivist teacher creates a context for learning in which students can become engaged in interesting activities that encourages and facilitates learning. The teacher guides students as they approach problems, encourages them to work in groups to think about issues and questions, and supports them with encouragement and advice as they tackle problems, adventures, and challenges.” http://viking.coe.uh.edu/~ichen/ebook/et-it/social.htm

At present, there is a generalized fear of the world that prevents parents from allowing their children to explore their neighbourhoods and communities as I once did. Gibbs (2009) reported in Time Magazine that “ in the 1990s something dramatic happened, and the needle went way past the red line. From peace and prosperity, there arose fear and anxiety; crime went down, yet parents stopped letting kids out of their sight; the percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Death by injury has dropped more than 50% since 1980, yet parents lobbied to take the jungle gyms out of playgrounds, and strollers suddenly needed the warning label “Remove Child Before Folding.”

This “helicopter parenting” is a result of the need that parents have to be continually involved in their child’s lives. They step in to protect them from harm or disappointment, and to make decisions and advocate on their behalf, all with the best of intentions. School districts in turn respond to the concerns of parents by removing hazards and blocking access to Internet and social networking sites that could potentially expose them to inappropriate material. However, as Heppell (2010) pointed out, “If we were seeking to develop water safety we wouldn’t keep children away from water until they are 16 and then throw them off the pier – similarly with social media, blindly banning them is inappropriate and equally dangerous.”  http://www.heppell.net/facebook_in_school/

What is social networking?

“Social networks focus on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.” (Berger & Trexler, 2010, p. 159).

Ito et. al. (2010) discuss three genres of online participation amongst young people: “Hanging out,” “messing around,” and “geeking out”. As different times they “possess varying levels of technology- and media-related expertise, interest, and motivation,” (p. 36) and “craft multiple media identities that they mobilize selectively depending on context.” (p. 37) We will explore how each of these genres of participation is reflected in a social networking tool.

Hanging Out – Facebook

My personal learning process with the tools:

Setting up a Facebook was pretty simple, although I did contemplate whether or not to use my full name. I have been very cautious with my online identity and have chosen to use a different log-on identity for the other accounts I have created. However, I decided that the purpose of Facebook is for people to find each other and create those networks. Admittedly, it does make me somewhat uncomfortable, but that is mainly due to my own hesitation in joining Facebook in the first place. Social networking for purely entertainment and communication purposes is not something I have chosen to pursue in the past. I have seen it as something I could easily lose a great deal of time on, and felt that the people I truly want to communicate with are the ones I already talk with on a regular basis. Also, having been made aware of a few situations where teachers have ended up in difficult situations due to things they posted on their Facebook, I was not interested in opening myself up to any issues.

I immediately went into the privacy settings to ensure that I was only allowing friends I invited to see my content, and then proceeded to upload some photos. I searched around for friends, checked out a few groups, and tried out some linking of videos to my Facebook. I haven’t got to the point of putting more detail into my Facebook profile yet, or even updating my status. Too many other tools to try out in a short time!

Supporting personal learning:

When exploring groups, I looked for libraries that were using Facebook and found pages such as the Edmonton Public Library and Geek the Library (an advocacy site). I was interested to see how they were using social networking and whether it might be an option for my library. I can see how using the wall and creating events is a way to communicate what is happening, but I was not seeing a great deal of discussion going on which made me wonder how networked it really is. So then I looked for pages related to education and found the Facebook in Education page, which provides some ideas and more interactivity than the others.

Supporting teaching and learning:

I can remember hanging out with my friends for hours, talking, laughing, and creating our own lip-synched versions of the music videos we saw on television (or recreating our favorite Carol Burnett characters like Mr. Tudball and Mrs. soWiggins). And when I wasn’t with my friends, I took over the one telephone in our house and dragged the cord down the basement stairs where my conversations would not be overheard, so we could stay in constant contact.

In an environment where there are fewer and fewer spaces for kids to hang out informally in public space, these online friendship-driven networks are critical contexts for these forms of learning and sociability. Rather than construe these dynamics negatively or fearfully, we can consider them also as an integral part of developing a sense of personal identity as a social being. (Ito et. al., 2010, p. 21)

I see that Facebook is really being used as a place to socialize, try on different identities, and experience affiliation (or perhaps even belonging). What I wonder about though is whether they are actually networking with others, or simply talking with the same people every day just as I once did. Boyd states that,“Social network sites do not help most youth see beyond their social walls. Because most youth do not engage in “networking,” they do not meet new people or see the world from a different perspective. Social network sites reinforce everyday networks, providing a gathering space when none previously existed.”

Erin Schoening shares how she is using Facebook to communicate with her grade 1 students and their parents: Using Facebook in the Elementary Classroom – Prezi. I really like how the parents are involved as contributors as well, and would be interested in trying something like this out. However, we are already using our SchoolZone to communicate between home and school as a district, and therefore another platform would just become confusing for parents.

The challenge is that Facebook is blocked for all of our students, which limits the opportunity to provide guidance and instruction in how to build a network and what is appropriate use. We know our students are creating profiles and participating on Facebook, even those students younger than 13 who are not allowed to set up an account. I do see the purpose of Facebook to be on the social side and not necessarily as a networking tool, and therefore probably would not be using it for teaching and learning.

Messing Around – Nings

My personal learning process with the tools:

“One of the first points of entry for messing around with new media is the practice of looking around for information online.” (Ito et. al., 2010, p. 54). This was my exact approach when I first started exploring Nings. I looked around at a number of them and then decided to sign up for a few that met particular learning needs. Signing up was easy once again, just requiring a log-on ID and password.

What I discovered was how involved and complex a Ning can become, as there are a number of groups and forums to join and participate in. Classroom 2.0 has over 50,000 members and is impossible to keep up with, so it is important to focus in on what you want to follow and start small. The power of the Ning is that it truly becomes a social network; a question or a request for advice leads to a number of responses from educators all over the world, allowing for sharing of ideas and perspectives.

With that in mind, I decided to explore the creation of a Ning to bring together teachers and students between my two schools. I thought I might begin with creating one around award-winning literature, and start out with the Young Reader’s Choice Awards as I will be starting to booktalk them. The appeal of a Ning is that I can set it up for our students only, and they can use their share gmail accounts to log in. This allows me to put in protections and involve students in social networking where I can model and support appropriate online behaviour.

However, my concern about Ning is the cost that is now associated with setting one up. In order to do this between the two schools, I would not be able to go with the Ning Mini account that is sponsored by Pearson, as this only allows for 150 members. I would need to pay $20 per month for the Plus account which allows for unlimited members.

Tolisano (2010) shares the same issue when considering what to do with the successful Around the World in 80 Classrooms project. Saying Goodbye Ning. What I discovered in reading this post was a potential solution to my problem:

Click on image to go to site

Buddypress is a plug-in for WordPress.org, allowing for a social networking site to be set up without cost. It just requires me to set up a wordpress.org blog, and we already have a website host that has room to accommodate both. I could then have my library blog with a social networking feature incorporated that would allow for both schools to be communicating in a protected, moderated manner. Of course, I have to jump through some hoops first to get the wordpress blog hosted, get permission for students to participate in the Ning, and then get everything created, so I did not go ahead with creating it yet until I know that everything is in place. No sense doing all the work if something isn’t going to be ready to go!

Supporting personal learning:

Along with the previously mentioned Classroom 2.0, I am also a member of TLNing and ReadKiddoRead.com. I’m finding these three nings to be a wealth of information and are most aligned with my three areas of interest and need right now: Web 2.o, teacher-librarianship, and literature.

What I am now interested in is started to participate in select discussions – in essence, to start messing around by connecting with others who share similar interests, or who have knowledge to share that would be beneficial to my own learning. Messing around involved “experimentation and play” according to Ito. et. al, and although my approach to play with Web 2.o has been to create, I am interested in seeing how to play with participating in (and eventually creating) my own network.

Supporting teaching and learning:

A Ning can be a safe way to address their responsibility online, to practice appropriate and ethical behaviour and understand the reality of their digital footprint. “We use pencils when we want to let the kids erase and start over, but the Internet is most definitely in huge Sharpie permanent ink.This brings up the point of taking kids into safe places with us where they can learn.” (Davis, 2010)  http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2010/10/facebook-photos-your-delete-doesnt-mean.html

Literacy is about more than print. By having students practice communicating within the controlled environment of a teacher-created Ning, and then building an understanding of how to network and share ideas, they can move beyond the socializing aspect so familiar to them with Facebook. Utecht states,

“Networked literacy is what the web is about. It’s about understanding how people and communication networks work. It’s the understanding of how to find information and how to be found. It’s about how to read hyperlinked text articles, and understand the connections that are made when you become “friends” or “follow” someone on a network. It’s the understanding of how to stay safe and how to use the networked knowledge that is the World Wide Web. Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.

Geeking Out -LibraryThing/GoodReads/Shelfari

My personal learning process with the tools:

A place where I can go to share opinions and wonderings about books, and find out about new great reads? Sign me up!

So I was totally geeking out with these three sites …  each had features that grabbed my attention. All three sites make it easy to sign up. GoodReads had an initial step where you indicate your ratings for books in different categories, and if you had not read the book yet whether you were planning to. This provided an initial book list to start off, which I found interesting.

With Shelfari and LibraryThing, you had to start entering names of books and then could choose to read what others had said or how it was rated, or go into rating and reviewing it yourself. I like the visual bookshelf of Shelfari and could see that students would really like it as well. Of course, the widgets won’t work to embed Shelfari or GoodReads into my wordpress.com blog … argh! Yet another reason to set up a .org hosted account (or look at another blogging platform. Had the same issue with the Yahoo video above).

However, the groups in LibraryThing really grabbed my attention and seemed to have more robust discussions around books and topics of interest (first literary crush? Good to know that others had the same crush on Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables!)

Supporting personal learning:

These sites are an endless resource of ideas for purchasing books for my libraries, finding reviews for book talks, participating in discussions around particular books or themes. It’s an opportunity to ask questions and get recommendations, and definitely a place to geek out with other members who share my same interest and passion for picture books and young adult fiction.

Supporting teaching and learning:

“A study by the National School Board Association and Grunwald Associates in 2007 finds that “nearly all (96%) of kids aged 9-17 are chatting, text messaging, blogging, and creating pages on social sites.” They continue to say that “Online social networking is now so deeply embedded in the lifestyles of tweens and teens that it rivals television for their attention.” (Berger & Trexler, 2010, p. 161)

If this is the case, I want to leverage that interest and direct it towards conversations about the books they are reading. We have a large number of enthuasiastic readers who love to talk about books, as well as reluctant readers who may find the outlet of social networking around books a way to learn about books that might peak their interest. Teachers could set up book clubs for their students and monitor their discussions, and help them to find effective reviews and have them post their own as well.

Of course, Shelfari and LibraryThing both require students to be 13 before they can sign up for an account, which leaves my K-7 students out. I could see using Shelfari with my teachers to help them with their own literature selection, as I could tag different books related to curricular outcomes or reading/writing strategies, and then encourage them to add their own tags, ratings or reviews. The reviews can be used as mentor texts to support students in learning how to write an effective review, and could also be used for my library club members to storyboard and design book trailers.

Concluding questions to ponder

Social networks are not going away, and it is in our best interest to prepare students to participate safely and ethically. Berger and Trexler (2010, p. 173-174) point out important social network concepts that need to be addressed and discussed with students:

  • Profiles – awareness of the type of information they should and should not include in their profiles
  • Privacy settings – understand the settings and how using them gives them control over who views their information
  • Friending – understand that just because someone requests to be their friend, they are not obligated to honor the request
  • Cyberbullying – understand that what they say, do, and how they treat others can affect their own future as well as the victim’s future
  • Sexting – understand how it could embarrass them by being sent to a much larger audience or be posted online for perpetuity, and place them in a potentially dangerous situation
  • Flaming – understand the rules of netiquette which encourage courtesy, honesty and polite behaviour, and how confrontational messages break those rules

They also provide a number of links to organizations online that promote online safety and include activities, lesson plans and movies.

Our students are socially constructing their identity as they participate online, and it is up to us to ensure that they use the tools appropriately and knowledgeably. Otherwise, they may end up like Harvey Korman, when Tim Conway as his dentist had difficulty managing the tools.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My dream is to be free …

Along with my love of performance previously documented in an earlier blog post, my other earliest memory is of the chalkboard in our playroom. I loved to draw on the board and tell elaborate stories about what I had drawn to anyone who would listen, and my audience was usually my younger sister.

My other method of presentation was to use my Etch-a-Sketch, where I would create pictures using the two dials, share my drawings with family, then shake the picture to clear it and start over. However, I was limited by the vertical and horizontal lines, never able to find a way to step outside the limitations of the toy and express myself in other ways.

The desire to express thoughts and ideas has been around since paintings on cave walls, and unfortunately so has the oppression of individual freedoms to express those thoughts. The fight for personal and collective freedoms is ongoing … as one set of freedoms is achieved, others continue to struggle.

For this post, I have had the freedom to play, and as a result have chosen to include a number of the tools that I explored and my thoughts about how they can be incorporated into my work as a learner and an educator.

My personal learning process with multimedia and presentation tools

I decided to investigate these tools in pairs, with the intent of comparing the features of each to determine which I would prefer for my own personal learning. As a teacher-librarian, I looked at how the tools could support collaboration with teachers and also meet the variety of learner needs. Due to the number of students with diverse learning needs in our school, I also looked at the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning when considering the use of each tool.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” CAST

UDL Guidelines are based upon this belief that all students can become mastery learners when three areas are addressed that support learners to meet curricular outcomes that are not designed to meet a range of learner needs. When planning for learning, the “what”, “how”, and “why” of learning should be considered:


Click on image to go to website

Vuvox and Animoto – Put on a show

I have created numerous slideshows over the years, and had students create movies where they can edit text, video and audio and make decisions about timing and transitions. I prefer to have them storyboard prior to letting them work on the computer, so that they can make decisions about content and layout without being drawn into the time-suckage that can result from the different editing options.

With Vuvox and Animoto, the editing options are limited and a final product can be created in mere minutes. This has great appeal to the busy classroom teacher, as I found when I was doing a collaborative project with the grade 1 teacher where we took photographs of the students demonstrating scenes of peace. A quick demo of the tool and she was sold, and we had the show completed in mere minutes. Due to district restrictions, I am unable to show the final product without written permission from all the parents, but we both had chills when we viewed it together.

I decided to then create a book trailer in Animoto using the book Remember: A Story of School Integration by Toni Morrison.

The free account in Animoto does limit the options to a few styles, and I am unable to adjust the speed of slides, and the 30 second time limit does not provide for many slides to be put together.

In Vuvox, I put together a series of images related to Remembrance Day, to link to the ongoing inquiries that students are doing and provide an initial stimulus for their own shows they will be creating:

Click image to view show

I can see how the linear style of this show might be easier to follow for some learners, as it does not have the music video style of the Animoto site.

Supporting my personal learning: Due to the ease of use, these tools lend themselves to creating shows of personal photos around themes such as special events or vacations with minimal effort.  I find the use of music and images to be powerful as a learner, especially when they are organized around a particular theme.

Supporting teaching and learning: As a teacher-librarian, I want to involve my library club members in promoting books. I feel that both Animoto and Vuvox would be easy to learn and highly motivating to create and to view. As a teacher, I feel that Vuvox would be easier to follow for assessment purposes. Using a multimedia tool provides students the opportunity to express themselves, and is motivating enough for them to sustain effort and persistence towards the final goal.

VoiceThread and xtranormal – Sharing

I was familiar with VoiceThread as I had explored it in the past, but I had yet to create one myself. I decided to make one to correspond with the upcoming publication of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, as it is a highly anticipated book in both of my libraries.

Click image to view Voicethread

Creating the VoiceThread was very simple. I set up an account and was immediately provided with sample tutorial videos on my account page. It was pretty straightforward to upload images to the site, and I decided to try out all the different methods of commenting to see how they worked. I started with simply recording using the microphone on my laptop, and then tried out the telephone feature as I found that quite intriguing. When you select the telephone to comment, you type in your phone number and then VoiceThread phones you with a message asking you to record your comment. I found the sound quality to be decent, and thought that this would be a great option for family or friends living far away who might not have a microphone to use. I then tried out the webcam commenting option – also easy to use, and the text typing.

xtranormal is an animation tool where text is turned into performance. There are sets where one or two actors can be selected, and then you can type in the script for each performer.

Two Robots

I did create a short video and although I was amused by the results, I noticed that many of the options required the purchase of extra points, and that combined with the somewhat robotic voices and the potential for mispronounced words (especially with spelling errors), I decided that it probably was not a practical option at this time.

Supporting personal learning: VoiceThread would have been a great tool to have when my son was little, as our family lives far apart and it would have been a way to stay in touch and share the day-to-day events in our lives. The sample VoiceThread of the little girl getting her first haircut is a perfect example of how powerful this tool can be for young children (and their families): Getting a new haircut

Supporting teaching and learning: VoiceThread can be used to break down concepts step-by-step, with audio narration or drawing tools to highlight important ideas, and students can pause and replay as needed. A procedure in math, a science concept, the historical background to an event – all could be enhanced for diverse learners using VoiceThread. Bomar (2009) shares an example of using a VoiceThread in high school as an inquiry activity prior to reading a novel, in order to prepare students with background knowledge that would support them when reading.

For younger learners, VoiceThread is ideal. Student drawings could be scanned and then narrated using a microphone, allowing for feedback to be given as well. English language learners and struggling readers could practice their fluency when reading and build their vocabulary by finding images and narrating them.

I am also intrigued by the idea of using a VoiceThread as a Digital Portfolio. Here is a sample of a grade 5 student who demonstrates the ability to set goals, plan and monitor her progress, and identify her strengths and areas for growth. Fifth grade digital portfolio

Glogster and Bitstrips – Different ways of knowing

Glogster is an online poster creation site where images, text, audio and video can all be embedded. In addition, there is a social networking feature where students can comment on each other’s Glog. Because of this social networking feature, students in our school under the age of 13 are not allowed to participate due to our appropriate use agreement. However, setting up a classroom in the edu.glogster.com account allows for privacy settings so that students are not using their own email accounts to set up a Glog account. As the teacher, I can set up a free account where I have 50 students assigned. I decided to go with the Edu premium trial account (free for 30 days), so that I could test all the features of Glogster.

I have been working with the grade 5 team at one school to support students in building a Glog that will be the culmination of their first inquiry project of the year. Students have been investigating the climate in their ideal place to live, and have also been making connections to the lifestyle and potential extreme weather that might occur there. I started them with two that I had created, using the same content:

Ms. J Sample Glog 1

MsJ Sample Glog 2

Setting up a Glog was very easy to do, and there are enough options available to give students ownership over the design without being too overwhelming. In fact, I would say there are enough options that teachers will need to monitor students to ensure they don’t waste an entire class period changing backgrounds!

Students used a See/Think/Wonder process to generate a list of criteria for an effective Glog, based on the two I created and some other samples we looked at. We ended up with the categories of Content, Visual Appeal and Layout as being key to the creation of a Glog that clearly communicates and demonstrates learning.

The next step is for students to log on using their user id and password, which is a string of randomly assigned numbers and letters. We have not tried this yet, and my plan is to add each student’s last name to the random id and then email this information to students so that they just have to copy and paste from their Gmail account. This is my main concern with Glogster, especially with younger students who might find it difficult to understand their account. Also for teachers to be able to track each student – without their name, the random id would make it very difficult to understand who is who.

Bitstrips is a comic strip creator that also allows for the functionality of creating a secured classroom where it is not necessary for students to use an email account to log on. The teacher creates the classroom and adds the students, and then provides students with the information to log in. When creating a bitstrip, it can only be seen by members of the class, and teachers can moderate comments as well to ensure appropriateness.

Creating a bitstrip can be quick and easy:

A teacher would want to ensure that they set parameters for what students should spend their time on. I found myself spending far too much time tweaking my own avatar, and could easily see students getting involved in customizing their characters to the point where nothing else is accomplished.

Supporting personal learning: What I really like about the Glog is the ability to embed video and audio, and link to external sites. The visual appeal of the Glog makes it ideal for the front page of a Wiki or website, such as the Pathfinder Swap Wiki, which has provided me with inspiration for my own planning as a teacher-librarian.

Supporting teaching and learning:  Carrington and Robinson (2009) refer to how these multimodal texts “take into account not just just the written word, but also images, layout, font, sound, gesture, movement …” (p. 30).  During our criteria setting for an effective Glog, students pointed out how elements such as font style and size communicate message and intent. Bitstrips has great potential for writers, as it allows a method for planning and managing information in smaller bits, but also requires higher-order thinking as the storyline must be synthesized to the most critical elements to fit into the limited frames provided. It is also highly engaging for so many of our students who are drawn to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and graphic novels, which are highly popular in my libraries.

Prezi and Wallwisher – Working together

I had originally explored Prezi as a presentation tool for an inquiry course over the summer, and found that the ability to plan and see the big picture really helped me as a learner.

Click on image to view Prezi

However, the zooming in and out in the presentation mode made me feel a little motion sickness, and I felt that this would not be a tool that I would want to have 25 students use to share their learning (not without a bucket of Gravol, anyway!)

I decided to try out the Prezi format as a potential meeting/collaboration tool with a grade 4 teacher that I will be working with. I started with brainstorming a few ideas around our inquiry template, and invited her to edit the Prezi brainstorming as well.

Click image to view

The visual nature of the meeting space allows for multiple users to work together.

Wallwisher is another tool that allows for visual presentation of collaboration, and I can show that collaboration happening on the Smartboard so that all ideas are documented. It requires setting up an account, creating a wall, and then emailing all participants with the link provided so that they can join in the collaboration.

Supporting personal learning: As a global thinker, I need to see the big picture and understand my goal before I can sort out all the details. Even when I am collecting all the details, I need to have some sort of format for laying them out so I can begin to see the connections. I’ve tried Prezi out a couple of times this way, as a sort of virtual “Post-It” note generator, and being able to add images and hyperlink to other sites is becoming more helpful as I do more of my reading online.

Supporting teaching and learning: Using a visual collaborative tool in combination with conversation and discussion allows for multiple means of representation and expression. Students contribute ideas and share perspectives, allow for different ways of seeing the same problem. The newly revised Alberta Math Program of Studies is built upon this premise of students working together to find ways of solving problems, and then sharing this thinking with the rest of the class allows for those different ways of understanding to be developed. Tools such as Prezi and Wallwisher could allow for students to do this work together, show it on the Smartboard, and even include hyperlinks to other demonstrations of learning that they find.

Google Earth – Zooming between big picture and details

I began to explore Google Earth towards the end of the week, as a response to the needs of teachers and students. In the process of supporting the grade five students in their inquiry, I came to find that many of them had selected places that they had very little knowledge of. We then moved to Google Maps to help them begin to narrow down their search, as many had selected names of countries and needed to be more specific when determining weather and climate.

What I found also helped was determining the position of their country on the globe, and thus Google Earth also came into play. By starting with the reference point of our school (well, the empty field since our school is so new!), we could then zoom out and find the place they had selected, and then talk further about the location and how climate might be affected by factors such as proximity to water, geographic features, or position near the equator.

Supporting personal learning: I have always loved maps, and looked forward to the latest National Geographic magazine whenever we visited my aunt’s house. Her basement walls were lined with them, as they had every issue since they started publishing. I would plan trips in my head, using the photographs in the magazine to help me visualize what I would see when I got there. I can now do the same with Google Earth and Google Map, and the best part is that I can do it on my computer or on my iPhone.

Supporting teaching and learning: Google Earth has already proven itself to be an essential part of the inquiry learning process in the last week. Berger and Trexler (2009) state that “The tools’ visual immediacy helps to connect and motivate students encouraging them to ‘fly’ to different places and continue to investigate, to compare, and to document.” p. 183. It’s like being in a dream, but you don’t fall and wake up in the middle of it.

On Friday, a grade 6 teacher came to me looking to collaborate on the upcoming Sky Science unit, so I began to explore the potential of Google Sky. I discovered the ability to view the night sky above our location and map out the constellations. The Google Earth educators page provided a wealth of ideas that I am looking forward to going through as I begin my planning with the teachers next week. Berger and Trexler provide a useful guideline for planning, entitled The Educator’s Pre-Planning Guide for a Google Earth Trip (p. 199) that I am looking at using.

Concluding question(s) to ponder

Erin Gruwell entered a Long Beach classroom filled with students deemed “unteachable”, living amongst drugs, gangs and violence.

“By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to rethink rigid beliefs about themselves and others, to reconsider daily decisions, and to rechart their futures. With Erin’s steadfast support, her students shattered stereotypes to become critical thinkers, aspiring college students, and citizens for change. They even dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” — in homage to civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders” — and published a book.” Freedom Writers Foundation

Erin shared with her students the lives of others who lived in war and oppression – Anne Frank, Zlata Filopovic – and guided them to start exploring their own fears and shaping a new identity. She gave them the freedom to dream bigger than they had imagined, and they flew.

I am fortunate to work with an amazing teacher who, with her junior high special needs class, wrote to Erin to convince her to come to Edmonton and share the stories of her experience. In preparation for her visit, they worked so hard that most of them improved up to four grade levels in reading and writing. When Erin came, I watched her speak to a gymnasium filled with young people that was so silent you could hear a pin drop. During her visit, she spent time with the kids and gave her full attention to every one she spoke with, and they all stood taller. They were inspired – to read, to write, to learn, and to be heard. They learned about the freedom to choose how to express oneself, to learn and access information, and the responsibilities that come with those freedoms -to demonstrate their learning, and to be an ethical and contributing citizen.

Moving towards a participatory culture requires that teachers allow students the freedom to explore ideas together using multimedia and presentation tools, and to remix those ideas. This teacher and I are now planning to have her new students inquire around freedom, to connect with their study of “Freedom Writers.” I’m thinking that my first steps will be to create a Google Earth trip showing all the places in the book – the neighborhoods they lived in, Anne Frank’s house, where Zlata had to flee. To give them a sense of place. Then, to guide the students to create their own Google Earth trips connected to Voicethreads that share more than one perspective, similar to the approach by Nichols (2010). She had her students create VoiceThreads showing how battles affected soldiers on both sides in World War II. Perhaps the students will explore the suffrage movement, the election in Iran, child soldiers in Africa, freedom of speech, or the failed attempt at democracy in China. I’m excited to see where they will go with it, and how we can support them all to wave their flag.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I believe in the power of you and I …

Wikipedia states that “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.” As young children, we carry unquestionable belief in the existence of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. Parents work to maintain those childish beliefs and hold on to that innocence. (Unfortunately, my son learned far too early that Santa did not exist, because at 5 years old he observed that Santa could not spell at his dad’s house!)

As a child, I believed. We had our own tickle trunk just like Mr. Dressup’s filled with costumes, and chairs just like the Friendly Giant had in which my siblings and I would curl up to watch Rusty the Rooster and Jerome the Giraffe. We believed that there were cars like Herbie the Love Bug and beds that could fly as in Bednobs and Broomsticks. Every Halloween we watched Linus wait patiently for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, and at Christmas for the Grinch’s heart to grow three sizes.

My first experience with school in grade 1 was with an innovative and sensitive teacher who could see that I was beyond learning the alphabet, and she provided me with opportunities to work collaboratively with another advanced student to inquire and explore, and then bring these findings back to share with our classmates. She cared enough to believe in me and provide me with extended learning, and knew how to keep me connected with my classmates.

Because of her, I could not get enough of learning, and in grade 2 my parents purchased The New Book of Knowledge encyclopedias to quench my thirst as I no longer had teachers who allowed me to collaborate, to inquire, and to share. In school, I worked in isolation to fill in boxes in my phonics workbooks or answer questions based on my DRA cards. I learned that knowledge was power, so that I could have the right answers for the teacher. At home, I would work my way through the information contained in those volumes, reading from A to Z, and then starting over again. On my own.

Fast forward to today. The power of connectedness that we as Canadians all felt during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver – standing on roadsides to cheer on the torch relay, wearing the Canadian flag on mittens and toques, water cooler conversations about the previous day’s events. There was a sense of pride, of togetherness, and we could not get enough. Information was immediate and plentiful, and we wanted to know more. Who didn’t shed a tear over Joannie Rochette completing her short-program skate days after her mother suddenly passed away?

This sense of community is reflective of the world our students are participating in – they share, collaborate, edit, and discuss content online. So how do we ensure that students are educated to use wiki tools effectively, as a tool where the power is in collaboration and creation?

My personal learning process with wikis

As a classroom teacher, my students have collaborated to create monthly newspapers that share information about what we have been learning in class. Each student had responsibility for one topic, and would create their article in Word, save it in our P: drive, and then I would comment on the article using highlighting and sticky notes, save it, the student would open it, make revisions. Finally, they would submit the article for publication, and I would paste it into a formatted newspaper in Microsoft Publisher, print it, and then distribute to families. Students were always so excited to see this collaborative product in print, although in reality, they had not seen the work of their peers until the final product was published.

Click on image for link to Wiki page containing writing samples

As I looked at the idea of a wiki, I saw how activities such as the newspaper could become more collaborative. I started with going back to explore two wiki tools that I had seen when researching for my own professional learning: pbworks, and wikispaces.

I decided to create wikis in each using similar content – in this case, a site exploring the teaching of writing and how to adapt this to collaborative Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs. Both sites provide a free account to sign up for, and I quickly found how to start a new wiki, create pages, and add content. Both were very user-friendly in terms of adding content, requiring one click of a button to add a page which I then named. I could then select Edit to add content to the page, and edit the text on each page using the menu items.

I found myself at one point wanting to reorder the pages, in order to make reading the wiki as a linear document. In wikispaces, I needed to go into the widgets and delete the table of contents widget, and then manually place each item in order to get the sequence I wanted. With pbworks, I needed to create folders which could then be changed around. What I came to realize is that a wiki is not a linear document, and that the tagging and titles serve the purpose of communicating to the reader, who can then make choices as to how they move through the pages. As someone raised in a print world, this is somewhat uncomfortable for me.

I found that for professional learning purposes, I preferred the simple appeal of pbworks, with the navigation bars showing all the pages and uploaded documents along the side. I felt that it would support participants using the wiki to easily see everything contained, as I found this quite useful myself with the wikis I’ve been exploring in my own learning network. With wikispaces, I have the pages in the side navigation, but not the documents that are uploaded and that required a couple of extra clicks to find them.

For student learning, wikispaces allowed for a more visually appealing page, which I felt would work better. I also liked the simple creation of student accounts, and the ability to set permissions and privacy levels to create a protected area for students to work. Although there was limited visual customization included with the free account, I liked the ease with which I could set up RSS feeds on my wikispaces account to be notified of all changes made to the page.

I then began to wonder about the use of a wiki in my schools that are using the student portal and Google Docs … would it be confusing for students and teachers who are just learning how to use Google Docs to introduce wikis as another method for collaboration? During a collaborative planning session with two teachers, I mentioned using Web 2.0 tools such as wikis or Diigo to help students manage information and work collaboratively, and was met with fear and reluctance as they are only just starting to use Google Docs and are not ready for something new.

As I pondered this issue of Google Docs vs. wikis, I found the following comments made on Blue Skunk Blog (September 19, 2007):

“The easiest distinction I can make is that Google Docs lends itself to document building. It’s content that is pretty much linear, starting at the top and ending at the bottom. While Wikispaces better facilitates non-linear content with multiple pieces that link to one another or even outside material.”

“If you were to create a mind map of the two, Docs would generally be just a single item, while WikiSpaces would include several items linking to one another in varying ways.”

In talking with a colleague who has worked with both, she expressed a preference for the visual appeal and linking of a wiki, and shared how easy it was for students to use. So now I am thinking about where each might fit in some of the collaborative projects that I am currently planning with teachers.

Wikis in my own personal life and learning

I love to collaborate with others, sharing ideas, building new understandings, and celebrating successes. These took the form of five minute hallway conversations, or a scheduled planning session.  I will often research before or after these conversations, as a way of generating or consolidating thinking and making new connections. So it would make sense that wikis would combine my love of collaboration with my need for research and inquiry. How do wikis help in my own learning?

I often turn to wikis throughout the day to locate quick answers, which makes sense as wiki in Hawaiian means “quick”. I have discovered great recipes on Vegetarian Recipes Wiki, and a complete guide to the Muppets which has provided endless hours of task avoidance as I research and explore via Muppet Wiki. Wikipedia is a frequent starting point, as it provides information that is contextualized through hyperlinks within the entry and also at the end of the post that I can follow. While exploring Wikipedia for information on the game show To Tell the Truth, I was reminded of the premise of the show being the use of questioning by the panelists to determine which information was false and who was actually telling the truth out of the three guests. It made me think about our students and how to support them in asking their own questions about the information they find – to be somewhat skeptical rather than simply believing whatever they are told or what is printed in front of them.

As I look back on my role as a consultant, I can’t help but wonder about the handouts I provided and how many were discarded or parked in a file folder, never to be looked at again. As a consultant, I was conscious of making my work with teachers collaborative, and found that over time I relied less and less on the traditional handout filled with information and more on the constructing of understanding through activity and social constructivism. I made it a point of modelling and having teachers try out the activities that their students would be doing, and then having them discuss and reflect together. However, I found that teachers were still very reliant on the “magic” handout that provided all the activites or answers. What intrigues me now is how I could use wikis to continue supporting that learning by providing the information I would have put into a handout, and also providing opportunity for teachers to add, revise and collaborate as they implement what was learned. Cofino, of Always Learning, demonstrates this with a wiki created for a presentation she did:

Click image to view

Wikis have also become an important part of my professional learning network, as a new teacher-librarian. Sites such as teacherlibrarianwiki provide booklist recommendations for elementary, middle school and high school readers. Teacher-Librarian Virtual Cafe and Elementary Library Routines supported my thinking about routines and procedures to implement, and Gr8 Libraries of Learning and Information Fluency – You know you\’re a 21st century librarian when … helped me to think about the bigger picture of planning for collaboration. Wikis are also helping me to think about the online presence of my library, through School Library Websites – some models of effective practice.

These are all fantastic sources of information, but what I am realizing is that I am not personally harnessing the power of wikis as a tool for collaboration, critical thinking and writing. I am lurking as a member of the learning community, and not exchanging ideas. I have decided to get involved in at least one professional wiki or ning, in order to move towards a collaborative presence online like I have in real-life.

Wikis to support teaching and learning

With students turning more and more to Wikipedia as their primary source for research, and the access to information online increasing at a staggering rate, the need to teach them how to ask questions and verify the validity of information is more important than ever. As a collaborative encyclopedia where participants continually revise, edit, and challenge content to ensure accuracy and relevance, educators continually dispute the use of Wikipedia as a credible source for research. There is concern that students who are using Wikipedia will easily believe erroneous information contained, and that there must be more credible sources available.

Using Wikipedia in the classroom can provide students with the opportunity to practice questioning sources, due to the flagging of content and continuous revision that occurs regularly on the site. As Shareski (2006) stated, “Wikipedia at the least, encourages us to be critical thinkers. I know when I go there, it may be inaccurate. I’m okay with that. Let’s help our kids not to be brainwashed by the media into believing everything they read and see. More recently, Richardson (2009) has pointed out that Wikipedia is becoming a trusted source, and “last year, the Denver Post ‘graded’ Wikipedia by asking experts to review entries in their field of study,” in which “four out of five agreed their relevant Wikipedia entried are accurate, informative, comprehensive and a great resource for students” (p. 58)

Head and Eisenberg (2010) found in their study of college student’s use of Wikipedia, that“if a student uses Wikipedia, it is surgically and methodically applied; usually in the very beginning of the research process as a precursor to a more in–depth investigation of a topic. Wikipedia plays an important role when students are formulating and defining a topic.”

They continue by saying, “When students have critical questions about narrowing down topics, figuring out search terms, and obtaining background information appears to be a critical time of need. It is a period of initial curiosity, but also one rife with inevitable frustrations in search of solutions.”

In the Framework presented by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, “a focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.”

According to Berger & Trexler (2010),“Wikis are the quintessential collaborative tool … Content is usually created by a number of authors, providing a variety of perspectives on the topic addressed. Wikis focus on authoring content, rather than just downloading existing content on the Web.” (p. 96)

Wiki use in the classroom can be found somewhere along a continuum towards increasing engagement in a participatory culture:

Carrington & Robinson, 2009, p. 75

Some examples of wiki use in the first stage of the continuum are the use of a wiki to share information, such as This Week in Tech – Kindergarten, or  What Your Teacher-Librarian Can Do For You. Students might follow a pathfinder like Pathfinder Swap set up by a teacher that provides them with direct links to support their initial stages of inquiry. Or, a wiki could serve to aggregate information for professional learning for teachers, such as hyperlinks that take them to lesson ideas like Cyberlit‘s collection of lessons to support digital citizenship and online safety.

In order to further support the 21st Century learning outcomes, wiki use can be expanded to include more participation. To support literacy development with greater collaboration, students can contribute their reviews and opinions of books to wikis such as Bookleads or Wikidreading. SennReads allows for a widget from LibraryThing to be incorporated, creating a visually appealing wiki and cross-platform sharing of information and reviews. When Moreillon, Hunt & Ewing (2009) used wikis as part of their literature circles at the high school level, they found that students “began to experience the powerful benefits of a 21st century collaborative learning environment; they began to prepare themselves for living and working successfully in a participatory culture.” (p. 28)

Collaborative writing in content areas, or as personal expression can be highly motivating for students through a wiki, as they create, comment, discuss and revise. Tharp (2010) shares how she approached assessment within a collaborative writing project with high schoolers, and emphasizes “the power of social networking for composition … particularly among young people.” Tolisano (2010) involved students in the creation and development of a math wiki Student thoughts about their math wiki. And Maltese & Naughter (2010) had middle-school students from different parts of the world collaborating on a wiki where they connected to the “This I Believe” podcasts on National Public Radio.

In considering how I will support teachers and students in moving along the wiki continuum, I turn to Davis’ (2010) Tips for Teaching Wikis – How I explain it to students, in which she outlines two phases for students:

Content Creation (including the contextualization of sources using hyperlinks)


Content Editing and Refinement (including a set of critical thinking questions for editing content)

The critical questions provided allow for students to think about how to read information on a Wiki and determine not only what might need updating, but how they might go about it.

Concluding question(s) to ponder

In my role as a teacher-librarian, I am questioning how to bring a more participatory culture to students, and whether these questions will help guide them in wiki collaboration. I am wondering about how a wiki can be incorporated into my library’s digital presence, how to support students to effectively contribute and respect multiple perspectives, and model for teachers how to bring this participation into their classrooms.

“When we ask the right questions, we succeed as a thinker, for questions are the force that powers our thinking. Thinking, at any point in time, can go off in thousands of different directions, some of which, by the way, are dead-ends. Questions define the agenda of our thinking.” (Paul and Elder, 1996)

Questions help us to move beyond the power of belief; the belief that something is true simply because I/we have always believed it, have been told to believe it, or feel it is in our best interest to continue to believe it.

The Tea Party Movement in the United States is an example of following beliefs and refusing to consider other information or points of view, resulting in the popularity of people such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck who promote their narrow views. Stephen Colbert accurately portrays this mindset as “America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty.” This agenda of fear, the promoting of blind faith in the views of others without questioning the facts or listening to another perspective is something that must be remedied.

Click to go to rally website

Becoming a 21st century learner means being able to ask questions, to work collaboratively to make meaning, to think critically about what we know and understand, and to find creative solutions to problems when they arise. Linus’ sincere belief in the Great Pumpkin left him waiting alone all night in the pumpkin patch. Even Sally left him when she realized that we miss out when we refuse to ask questions and simply wait for things to happen.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teach every child to raise his voice …

Go out and tell our story.
Let it echo far and wide.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.

Make Them Hear You, from the musical Ragtime. Performed by Dwayne A. Thomas

Looking Back … my voyage as a learner who was seeking her voice

Reflection podcast by shelljob

My personal learning process with podcasting

I have to admit that I have never attempted to podcast, but based on my previous history as a professional lurker, this should not surprise readers of this blog. Once again, I am forced into unknown territory,  but I figured it should be pretty straightforward. I started involving students in voice recording years ago to help them build their fluency as readers, learn how to slow down and articulate when working on oral presentations, and provide audio for performances.

I love working on puppetry with students as it is a personal passion that kids also really enjoy. However, when they are performing with puppets, the quality of their vocal performance tends to suffer as they are focused on manipulating the puppets. We had created intricate shadow puppets, and I decided to have the students create the backdrops using Powerpoint, rather than the standard white screen. As the students worked on their backdrop, they started putting in scene changes and animations, and that’s when I had a moment of clarity – they could record each scene using a microphone directly into Powerpoint, and with the audio and scenes all taken care of, the kids did a much better job of handling the puppets. We were also able to set up the computer speakers to allow for everyone in the audience to hear clearly. Success!

After that, I was set on using audio recording to support students. They scripted and storyboarded, easily learned how to stop and start. We didn’t do anything with editing – just recorded, stopped, and recorded again.

Since I felt comfortable with having students record, I thought that creating my own podcast was going to be a few simple clicks – after all, setting up the blog just took a few clicks, and social bookmarking was just as easy. Podcasting must be just as simple, right?!

I turned to Richardson, Berger & Trexler, and Fontichiaro for initial guidance, thinking it would be a few steps to becoming a published podcaster. What I found is that there are multiple options for creating a podcast, uploading and hosting a podcast, and embedding a podcast into your blog, and each option takes time to figure out. I’m usually pretty quick at this kind of thing, but admittedly found myself stumped on more than one occasion. (I’m blaming it on setting up two new libraries … fatigue and tendonitis have taken over my body and brain!)

As I moved into exploring tools, I decided to look at two different options for creating podcasts: Audacity, which is a free download and allows for editing and multiple track recording, and Audioboo, which is a web-based services that is quick and easy to record on but does not allow for any editing except for re-recording.

The “Audacity” of Hope

I knew of Audacity from colleagues who had used it in the classroom, but having been in consulting for four years I have not had the opportunity to try it with students myself. It was a quick download, and the LAME extension required to convert the Audacity files to mp3 was also easily installed. So then I proceeded to try out the software. I started with recording using my own laptop microphone and was not happy with the tinny quality of my voice and the background noise. I applied the noise removal effect, but still found a distant quality to my voice. I decided to purchase a good quality microphone, as admittedly I became rather spoiled by the professional recording microphone I had available to me in my last teaching assignment. Our techy guy was adamant that the netbooks at school had great built-in mikes and I would not need an external microphone, and after some discussion back and forth I decided to try out the netbook. The microphone is not bad, but it doesn’t help me when I am unable to download Audacity onto the netbook due to permissions being locked by IT. Back to the drawing board!

So, the microphone was purchased and I proceeded to try again. Voice recording, importing audio files, cutting, copying, pasting, fade in and out … all easily done. As with the movie editing software I have used, I could see how all the different options could become very time-consuming as you play and tweak things. So I decided to export the file to mP3 and begin the next stage of investigation … how do I get this podcast to my blog post?

Back to the books. Apparently I need to host my podcast on a web server or host site – I wasn’t prepared for this. I guess I thought that with all the great tools and widgets in WordPress, I would be able to upload an mp3 just as easily as a YouTube clip … not possible with the free account I have. Being cheap, I had to look for other options. I explored further and found a number of host sites, some of which are no longer accepting new postings. I finally settled on Podbean as it seemed pretty straightforward, uses tags to mark podcasts, and is a free service. After subscribing, I had a few glitches but finally ended up with a post and my podcast uploaded to that post. It looks very similar in style to my WordPress blog, meaning I can not only post podcasts, but also write blog posts and have comments as well. I’m now thinking about this as a possibility for a dedicated podcast site linked to the main library site, where the podcasts can be embedded.

Well, if the embedding were simple, that is. This is where I hit a series of roadblocks … I started to record a podcast of what I was doing on my iPhone.

Trying to embed by shelljob

I stopped recording before it got PG-13!

Finally, I found a rather detailed, somewhat confusing, but eventually helpful post on the WordPress help site that showed me what to do, and I successfully embedded. I tried it again with the voice memo recorded on the iPhone, emailed to myself, imported into Audacity (oops … needed another plug-in to deal with mp4 files!), exported to mP3, uploaded to Podbean, embedded in WordPress. Phew! That’s a lot of steps!


So posting podcasts to a blog requires more than I thought. I then moved on to Audioboo, hoping things might be simpler. It required signing up for the free account, and then recording was very simple – record, stop, re-record as needed. I could then post my boo, and although editing is not possible, the simplicity might be just what is needed for student podcasts where they are simply scripting and reporting (such as with a book talk). I tried out a weekly library update podcast and it was as fast as could be:
Library update Boo

Embedding in my blog required the same HTML code trick, but now that I have done it a few times … no problem!

So simplicity counts when time is short, meaning Audioboo may be the main tool for my library club kids to start out with. However, I personally would like them to move into working with voice and music for their book talks and reviews, so I will most likely teach them how to use Audacity. As for how these podcasts will be hosted – stay tuned. I’m still deciding on my platform for my library web presence (blog, Weebly, other …)

Podcasting in my own personal life and learning

I don’t listen to learn – without something to look at, I am quickly distracted. In fact, now that I have a PVR for my television, I find myself wanting to rewind everything I hear to catch it again. Really is a problem in the morning when the clock radio comes on!

I did explore some bloggers who podcast, such as Will Richardson, but found my attention quickly wandered and I could not stay on track. As an add-on to my online professional learning network, I’m afraid podcasting is in the same place as audio books … great for other people, but utterly frustrating for me! Give me text that I can interact with and I’m a happy camper.

That being said, I do listen to audio storytelling. A story of 5-10 minutes where I can get absorbed in the lives of someone else is quite engrossing with the right storyteller. Some of my favorites are  This American Life on WBEZ,  This I Believe on CBC and StoryCorps on PBS. My favorite podcast is a conversation between a mother and her son, which I found especially relevant as a teacher of students with special needs:

Q & A

In early 2006, 12-year-old Joshua Littman, who has Asperger’s syndrome, interviewed his mother, Sarah, at StoryCorps. Their one-of-a-kind conversation covered everything from cockroaches to Sarah’s feelings about Joshua as a son.

(If you really want a good cry, go to the other animated podcasts and watch “Danny and Annie”)

There are numerous educational podcasts available for both educators and students, and in my role as a teacher-librarian I do need to understand what is available for both. Although I struggle with the format, I am trying to explore further what might be available to support others. Admittedly, I’m not listening to entire podcasts, but I am scanning and bookmarking (courtesy of Diigo) sites that may be of interest to teachers and students.

Podcasting to support teaching and learning

Richardson (2009) states podcasting is “the creation and distribution of amateur radio … and it’s the distribution piece that’s important.” (p. 110). When considering the value of podcasting in supporting teaching and learning, I am drawn to his blog post of October 12, 2010 titled Better Learning or Better Learners? , in which he states that our focus on knowledge and learning is “right answering our kids to death”. In his post, he asks: But what if the emphasis was on learners, not learning? … the “learning skills” piece, the self-direction, critical thinking, “patient problem solving” piece are deemed “unimportant” in comparison to the grade on any given assignment … measuring creativity, passion, and innovation are difficult to do, much less teach.”

As we consider the possible ways that podcasting can support teaching and learning in the classroom, I want to consider how podcasting can support the learner by incorporating critical and creative thinking skills. Even simple reporting incorporates higher-order thinking, as students synthesize information and organize it to communicate effectively with their audience.

Podcasting to promote the library

As I posted above, I plan on creating regular podcasts to share what is happening in the library (such as upcoming events, new books, inquiry questions), along with an RSS feed for students who are starting to use Google Reader, which is something I plan to introduce to all library club members first so that they will stay in touch with messages from me and begin to explore RSS.

Podcasting to share and review books

Students in the library club will be taking turns producing podcasts to promote and review great books in the library. They are already excited about this, as we have started by  where they had to use critical and creative thinking skills to determine how best to promote their all-time favorite book to others.

Podcasting for personal expression

Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, had students write paragraphs about themselves and then create found poetry that was then podcast. She has this to say about the experience:

It goes without saying that no standardized test could come close to measuring the talent, creativity, and passion these students demonstrated today through their poetry.  Perhaps “no child would be left behind” if more poetry readings were part of our daily classroom life instead of some ridiculous EOCT question!  I will definitely be creating podcasts of poetry readings with my 10th and 11th grade night school students later this month. These magical experiences with words that I wish everyone could feel at least once in a lifetime.   I feel that being able to capture those readings with podcasting is a way that we can all relive on some level that communion of human experience today and our witnessing of the power of words! (April 4, 2008)

Podcasting to support literacy development

I know that sharing how students can read a podcast and listen to themselves and others will resonate with teachers who are trying to build oral fluency in their students. Listening to podcasts can also support differentiation in the classroom, especially for our students who are struggling readers. Davis & McGrail (2009) also show how podcasting can be used to support student writing in the challenging stage of proofreading and revising – “a complex literacy task that requires practice with a real audience in an authentic writing context such as classroom blogging.” When asked, a student “summarized the entire podcasting experience with her realization that reading her writing aloud had caused her to notice how it sounded to other readers unfamiliar with the text. The process resulted in her desire to be more careful and ensure that other readers could understand her writing. Students were proud of their new understandings and began to embrace the concept of proof-revising.” (p. 527)

Podcasting to share student learning

For division one students, I plan to share this classroom example of podcasting as an alternative to weekly Friday envelopes:

STAR FM - Class 9's Butterfly Project

As a literacy teacher, I believe in using mentor texts and modelling think-aloud to guide students in their learning. These two examples show how a teacher helps students to critically examining podcasts to determine the best way to structure and assess their own podcast:

Click on link for details and student podcast about Space Agents Real Estate

(image credit Langwitches.org)

Podcasting Power a blog post showing how students examine podcasts and generated criteria for their own podcasts

For our grades 6-9 students, I want to show how podcasting can be used to find a voice and influence social change:

Tracking Voices of Protest

As a teacher-librarian, I will continue to review sites such as The Education Podcast Network, and iTunes,  and add relevant podcasts to my Diigo lists and feeds for teachers.

Concluding question to ponder

As with any Web 2.0 tool, we must be aware of the pedagogy behind the effective use of it in the classroom. Otherwise, podcasting may become yet another Powerpoint, where facts are regurgitated and no demonstration of understanding is taking place. In  Judy O’Connell’s blog post Teaching Naked – without Powerpoint,

“The idea is that we  should challenge thinking, inspire creativity, and stir up discussion with a Powerpoint presentation – not present a series of dry facts … There is so much that we can get involved in if we want to in schools – whether it’s podcasting or ‘powerpointing’ – its about driving deep learning through deep investigation and discussion.” (August 3, 2009).

In addition, it’s not only the thinking and communication skills that need to be considered with podcasting, but also the distribution. As a radio broadcast, we have to consider: How will student’s voices be heard?

References for post

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Help I’m steppin’ into the twilight zone …

Sometimes finding the right information online can feel somewhat like slipping into the twilight zone, where there is no end in sight, no final page to turn, no complete answer. There is always another point of view, another perspective on the issue. Or, it is an endless maze of frustration for students, hopelessly lost without strategies to navigate or sort through what they are finding. For educators and students alike,

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Mitchell Kapor

Image credit 423smith.com

I fell somewhat into the Twilight Zone myself while researching for this post (in that I was exploring the classic television show), and while reading the descriptions of old episodes on Wikipedia, I found myself reliving some of my favorites. In the description of the first episode ever aired, I recalled seeing it for the first time when I was young, and the impact it had on me. I then decided to use the annotation feature of Diigo to have a conversation with the entry … when you hover over the sticky notes you will see the annotations. Feel free to add your own thoughts as well:

Click on the image to view annotation

The closing lines of the episode really made me reflect on the traditional paradigm of education that we are still battling – that of individual performance as the primary measure of learning, vs. the social world our students live in: 

“The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting … in the Twilight Zone. Wikipedia Entry.

Learning is a social activity. “Sociocultural approaches to learning have recognized that kids gain most of the knowledge and competencies in contexts that do not involve formal instruction. A growing body of ethnographic work documents how learning happens in informal settings, as a side effect of everyday life and social activity, rather than in an explicit instructional agenda.” (Ito, et. al, 2010, p. 21)

Our students are participating online in social networks based on friendship and interest, and in the process exploring their personal identities. Providing them with the opportunities to bring these skills into the classroom, and leverage these activities using social bookmarking aligns with their competencies and also engages them in actively searching, organizing, and processing information.

My personal learning process with social bookmarking

I had started with delicious.com tagging years ago, thinking that it would be the solution to the issue of not having the same bookmarks between computers. This was especially important when I was taking students to the computer lab. I had been creating hotlists for students to access in the P: drive, where they could simply click on the hyperlinks to begin their search for information. Sometimes when I was working with a student, I would remember a site I had bookmarked, and then would run to the computer I was logged onto, copy and paste the site into the hotlist, and then let everyone know. There was a television hooked up to the computer in the lab, so I could show students step-by-step where to go.

With Delicious, I could finally put the bookmarks in the student’s hands, without needing to take the extra steps of creating those hotlists (or the pathfinders I started to create as well, combining print, media and online resources). However, as the organization of sites within Delicious was not hierarchical like I was accustomed to, I found myself going back to my previous methods of folders. Tagging just did not feel natural to me, and I eventually let my account lapse and went back to my comfort zone. I was familiar with the hierarchical organization of information within standardized taxonomies created by experts. This new world of social bookmarking, organized in “folksonomies”, was like the wild west to me. “Folksonomies … are distributed systems of classification, created by individual users (Guy & Tonkin, 2006, as quoted in Morrison). Folksonomies can be broad, with many users contributing some (often overlapping) tags to items, or narrow, with few or one users tagging each item with unique keywords.” (Morrison, 2008, p. 1563).

I began exploring social bookmarking sites again this summer, as a requirement of the inquiry course I was taking. Pushed again into the twilight zone, I looked into both Evernote and Diigo, exploring how they worked and how they suited my style of learning. I was specifically exploring Diigo and Evernote as tools to support my personal learning, and benefits in using both for different purposes. I like Evernote for the ability to tile images of what I have saved, so if I were doing a general search for information and wanted to view it visually I could see this feature really working. I also like the capability of creating tags and folders, as my thinking does tend to prefer a folder set-up for organization.

However, I found that Diigo was my preferred tool both for my personal learning style and also for working with teachers and students. Being able to highlight text, tag highlighted text and bookmarks, and then see all the text related to a particular tag really showed the potential for supporting students in their information search.  What I prefer most about Diigo over Delicious or Evernote is the ability to annotate text by highlighting and adding sticky notes, and then making those notes public so that others may join the conversation.

I had created a pathfinder for my inquiry course, and was very pleased with the ease in which I could bookmark, describe, tag and share this pathfinder with individuals or with a group.

Click image to view pathfinder

What I had not yet explored was the social element of social bookmarking – I was still primarily using it to save sites and highlighted text for research purposes. My bookmarks were all marked private. “Content is not actually being created through social bookmarking, but connections are being made within the tagging community membership and the content is being grouped through the use of tagging.” (Berger and Trexler, 2010, p. 45). “The idea behind tagging is that a community, working together has the capability of developing a new meaningful tagging system that allows for participation by all.” (Berger and Trexler, p. 47). As I thought about this, I realized that not only did I need to make my Diigo account public, I also needed to use it to begin involving students and teachers in the search for information that would support learning.

As a first step, I decided to start creating some initial pathfinders for teachers and invite them to preview them as part of our collaborative work.

Click image to view pathfinder

Click image to view slideshow

I am continuing to develop pathfinders for teachers as they begin to ask about collaborating, both to support teachers and students but also to model the use of Web 2.0 tools in learning.

Social bookmarking in my own personal life and learning

Image credit mentalhygiene.com

I have colleagues and friends who are compulsive list makers, taking great satisfaction in crossing each item off as they complete it. They approach information in the same manner, linear and methodical. As a global thinker who prefers to process information in a visual-kinesthetic way, lists drive me crazy. I need to organize things by color, and to move or manipulate things in order to process them. When Post-It notes started coming in different colors, I was ecstatic – finally, something that worked for me after years of color-coding index cards myself. I need that act of writing information on individual notes, sorting and categorizing. For my daily tasks, it is a satisfying feeling to remove a Post-It note once I have accomplished that job.

However, working between two schools with teachers and students from Kindergarten to grade 9 results in hundreds of interactions per day. I am often asked questions that I must follow through on, and I rely on students and teachers emailing me or writing down their request on a Post-It note for me to remember. I am now looking at social bookmarking as another method for personal organization, in addition to the Google and Outlook calendars I am using to schedule between each school. The fact that Evernote has an iPhone app appealed to me (Diigo only has an offline reader app at this time). I tested it out using text, voice, and picture reminders, and found this to be quite helpful. I am now looking at using Evernote for my personal organization as I can use my iPhone for portability, and also sync all notes with work and home computers. I can easily carry my phone with me and quickly record something a teacher asked me as I walked down the hall, take a photo of something I need to remember, or jot down a quick note. Now I just have to remember not to put my phone down and forget it!

I am already using Diigo to highlight, bookmark, and annotate for my personal and professional learning. I find it very helpful for keeping track of information, and I am getting better at tagging that information so that I can easily locate it again. A goal that I have is to put in descriptions that help me to remember why I tagged that particular information, what connections it might have to previous learning, and why it is important to remember.

The access to professional learning through Diigo is also something I am beginning to access, by searching specific tags, or subscribing to RSS feeds such as evidence-based librarianship. I am starting to move beyond using Diigo simply as a means of bookmarking sites, and now see it as more of a note-taking and annotation tool that allows me to interact with text. I am hoping to continue to participate in some groups as another element of my professional learning network.

Social bookmarking to support teaching and learning

Our students are very much like WALL-E … they are curious and interested in participating online, and connecting to others is of paramount importance to them. However, they continue to face a digital divide in schools, where pedagogy and practice are still grounded in traditional ways of thinking about literacy. As Carrington and Robinson (2009) state,

“To this day there remains a belief, entrenched in curricular and policy, that children and their learning should be quarantined from engagement with these texts and technologies, and should instead be taught and evaluated against a curriculum focused on print. As a consequence, an increasing number of the children and young people walking through the school gates each morning are required to leave behind an entire suite of competencies, practices and knowledge about digital technologies and digital text.” (p. 2).

Our students are living in a social world online, and to engage them means to teach them how to use their interest and skills to leverage their learning both in and out of school. “As educators, it is our responsibility to take students from what they already know to the next level of critical thinking. In other words, today’s students are using these tools to connect, but are they creating enough, collaborating on projects, or inventing new ideas? Students need guidance, and here is where we can best use practiced methodologies of teaching to our advantage.” (Richardson, 2009, p. 91).

An essential area requiring support is in informational literacy strategies to serve their knowledge-seeking behaviours. In a 1999 study, Silverstein et al. (quoted in Morrison, 2008) founds that when searching, users generally enter short queries, don’t usually modify their queries, and usually don’t look at more than the first ten results.  p. 1563).

As we consider the use of social bookmarking in the classroom, Berger and Trexler (2010) ask three essential questions around the use of social bookmarking:

  • What is social bookmarking and how does it engage students in the learning process?
  • How does social bookmarking support student exploration and discovery of information?
  • What are the best social bookmarking sites and how are educators and students using them? (p. 43)

I believe that a starting place to support teachers and students and begin to model the use of social networking is through the development of pathfinders for a particular topic. I am currently developing a pathfinder with two teachers around the subject of weather in grade five, and we are doing this collaboratively online using Diigo as it has been challenging to meet. Although the teachers were reluctant at first (believing that their students should be searching for information on their own), they are now seeing how the pathfinder not only sets students up for success, it also helps them to think about how each site is categorized and tagged.

My next step will be to introduce the teachers to tracking a particular tag in Diigo using an RSS feed, so that their students can subscribe to the feed for a particular tag and track the weather for that place. This allows the information to come to students, rather than always being the seekers of information. I will also introduce teachers and students to the highlighting and sticky note features of Diigo, so that they can begin interacting with the text that they are reading online and become more purposeful in how they select text for highlighting and tagging. I want to move them away from the idea of bookmarking as a virtual closet, where sites are kept in folder and forgotten about. By using the tagging and descriptor fields, they will have to think critically about what the site it about, and why they are choosing to save it.

Diigo is not only effective in helping students and teachers to search for and manage information. With the ability to highlight and annotate text, it becomes a tool for practicing reading strategies and actively communicating with the text and with other readers. After teaching students to use Diigo to annotate text, Ferriter (2010) reported that”my students read and annotate at all hours of the day—before class, during lunch, or while surfing the Web after dinner—and return to our shared articles time and again to track developing conversations. Their reading has moved from a solitary act to the kind of community-driven practice that resonates with today’s teen.” (p. 2)

It is important to teach students how to manage a variety of print, media, and online texts, and to consider the use of social bookmarking sites such as Diigo or Evernote in interacting with and organizing those texts. “There is no longer a place for a view of literacy that values either skills and practices with static print or those with digital text… children and young people require a both/and approach to print and digital text. Contemporary multi-modal texts require what Leander calls a parallel pedagogy that weaves together the skills associated with digital and print texts to create and access meaning.” (Carrington & Robinson, 2009, p. 3)

The use of social bookmarking, with the proper supports from educators, will help students to collaborate and create new understandings. As Richardson (2009) states, “The biggest, most sweeping change in our relationship with the Internet may not be as much the ability to publish as it is the ability to share and connect and create with many, many others of like minds and interests … The collaborative construction of knowledge by those willing to contribute is redefining the ways we think about teaching and learning at every level.” (Richardson, 2009, p. 85)

It means helping them find their comfort zone, and turning that fire hydrant into a connected web, where the water droplets all have a place to be, and students know where to find them.

References for Post 


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Video killed the radio star …

August 1, 1981 at 12:01 a.m. The first video ever to be broadcast on MTV. I had only started to listen to my own music three years earlier, when I received a portable record player (you know the kind with a lid that closed and a handle to carry it) and the Grease album. I graduated to a rather brick-like Sony Walkman, and would listen to cassettes for hours on end, often having to manually wind a cassette that had unwound.

Music videos revolutionized everything – the combination of visuals and storytelling were hypnotic, and we would gather every weekend at a friend’s house to watch the videos that we recorded from Friday Night Videos on VHS. We had no access to MTV or MuchMusic. These tapes that we clumsily edited by hitting stop and record on the remote control became a central part of our social network – we gathered together to sing and dance, telling stories about our crushes as we watched them over and over. Now kids tweet, post videos, and comment on social networking sites about their celebrity crushes.

And yet, my experience with film and video in class continued to be …

I was the designated film geek, the person to thread the machine, fix it when something went wrong, and generally run the show. This started in grade 2, and continued throughout my school career. Teachers ordered films from our district office two towns away, and even when I graduated from high school film reels were still the standard for viewing in school. There was a digital divide between home and school that remains to this day, where access to video is only the click of a mouse away.

My personal learning process with videosharing

I had not realized just how many videosharing sites are on the Internet until I started this investigation. I had been familiar with sites  such as YouTube, TeacherTube, Google Video, Vimeo, and DailyMotion. Big Reboot lists 95 different videosharing sites:

Videosharing Websites – Big Reboot

I started with exploring SchoolTube, TeacherTube and YouTube, in order to compare ease of use, ability to create private groups for students, and access.

I decided to use a variety of methods to create videos, in order to compare the flexibility as well. I started with creating a simple introductory video using the webcam on my laptop. I had never recorded myself using the webcam, and after the first version shot in the kitchen with overhead lighting, I quickly deleted and then decided the softer light in the living room might make me look less pasty and lifeless!

Okay, so now I look creepy and jaundiced … and the video is somewhat out-of-sync, which seems appropriate for my current state of mind!

The winner in this case was YouTube – I can record directly using my webcam, and have the video uploaded quickly. With the others, I have to use my own software to record using my webcam, save the file, then upload.

I then moved on to experimenting with the video camera on my iPhone. I created two instructional videos for students to be posted on the library checkout stations as I am training all of the students to sign their books in and out. Once again, advantage YouTube. When I finish recording using my iPhone, I have a direct link to post my video to YouTube, and receive a confirmation message letting me view the final product. With Teacher Tube and SchoolTube, I have to wait until I can connect to a computer as the video files are too large to email. Then once the video is transferred, I can upload.

Finally, I created a Jing video to demonstrate for teachers how to book into the library using the Google calendar. Unfortunately, the video can only be posted to Screencast with the free account I signed up for. With the Pro account, I would be able to post my Jings directly to YouTube … also an advantage.

Booking the library using Google calendar

Along with the above advantages of YouTube, the sheer volume of videos being posted means that there is a great deal more choice, and also a great deal more that could be inappropriate for students. This is where TeacherTube, KidTube, and SchoolTube have the advantage. The moderation of content results in an environment that is controlled for students, and material is educationally relevant. However, as I searched for a specific topic, I found far greater choices on YouTube.

I have already used capture tools such as Zamzar to save YouTube videos in order to show them at school, due to the district blocking of YouTube in schools. I could see myself creating a channel in YouTube that only students are invited to (and then arranging with our tech to have student access), or selecting videos to either capture and save for sharing, or importing them into SchoolTube for student viewing.

Videosharing in my own personal life and learning

I love online videos – I probably watch at least a dozen per day that come to me through my Google Reader or a blog aggregator.  These videos provide me with entertainment and the opportunity to hear the perspectives of others, including those that I strongly disagree with. The ebb and flow of popular culture now happens in a matter of minutes; the time it takes for a video to go viral. Internet superstars are created overnight, and often forgotten just as quickly … at least that’s probably what the Star Wars kid hoped for, as one of the first viral video stars. As a parent and a teacher, I feel it is important to stay in touch with pop culture and what the students are interested in. However, I am struggling to find some of this new breed of reality television celebrity redeemable in any way.

Through online videos, I have viewed instructional videos that have helped me learn to change a light fixture, train my dog to stop jumping, and deal with the weeds in my flower beds. If only there was a video to show me how to train my dog to eat the weeds!

Videosharing also supports my professional learning network, whether it is an inspiring TedTalk, or an anthropological history of YouTube.

It’s actually the work that Micheal Wesch is doing with his students at Kansas State that really has me rethinking Web 2.0.  Digital Ethnography project videos.  It’s not only the content and the inquiries they are making into digital culture, but the social network they are creating within the classroom and with the larger online community. In every interaction, I see mutual respect, curiosity, and engagement in learning that is sorely missing from many high school and post-secondary classrooms. It’s this level of engagement and relationship that I believe is essential to supporting our students to become effective learners in the 21st century world.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of a mediated culture, where participants are involved in creating the norms and testing out the boundaries of their personal identity as they interact with one another. In Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, the authors hypothesize that

“those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.” (Ito et al, 2010)

As my interest is in literacy development in the middle years, I find these ideas of identity and community critical to our understanding of how to provide meaningful literacy experiences to students during this time of change. I am looking at how to use Flip video cameras to capture student voice around literacy and learning, and invite them to participate in creating videos as part of our library site (such as book trailers, website reviews, wonderings and learnings)

Videosharing to support teaching and learning

Supporting teaching

As I started to explore beyond simply mining the Internet for Muppets videos (it’s so addictive!), I really started to play with the possibilities of how I could harness videosharing in my role as a teacher-librarian in working with staff. Being half-time in two brand new schools, I struggle with the lack of institutional memory and the histories that teachers bring with them in terms of their understandings and expectations. I find there is a great deal of time needed to support and coach individual teachers, which is impossible when you are running from school to school. I find myself turning more and more to Web 2.0 tools to help organize my life and support the people I work with.

After creating calendars and systems for teachers to book the library (and working with them to develop an understanding of the role of a teacher-librarian), I decided to put together some tools to support them. I first started with creating a step-by-step of how to get into the district portal and go to the Google share calendar, using screen shots and written explanations. I then thought, why not model the use of technology to teach how to use the technology? I like having the opportunity to model and demonstrate for teachers, while providing those who need it with the scaffolding they may need to take that first step. As the staff look at how to incorporate technology, I hope to model how it can be used not only to engage learners, but also support learners with diverse needs.

When I sat down to create the short instructional videos, it took only a few minutes to record and upload each video. I organized the videos into a Library Procedures channel on YouTube, which could easily be linked to a library blog, Facebook page for the library, or sent as direct links to teachers. I am still playing with doing a library blog or Facebook page, but haven’t decided yet until I confirm what each school is doing with their webpage and whether we will be having district support for a MyLibrary site for K-9. What I love about posting the videos to YouTube or the Jings to Sharesite is that they can easily be sent to WordPress, Blogger, or Facebook. This connectivity really appeals to me. What I also like is that I can send the videos posted on YouTube over to SchoolTube, so that I can create a channel with instructional videos for students that will not be blocked by the district.

As I look ahead to how to support teachers in bringing videosharing into the classroom, I am interested in sharing with teachers the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. In “2001, the taxonomy, which was one-dimensional, was updated by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl by combining both the cognitive and knowledge dimensions into a two-dimensional model to reflect relevance to twenty-first-century work.” (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001, as quoted in Berger and Trexler, 2009) In this revision, the higher levels of thinking are key, where students must demonstrate their understanding by analyzing and evaluating the information and then synthesizing it into something that expresses their understanding.

Image credit Educational Origami Wiki

I have used this revised taxonomy a great deal with teachers, and I believe that this understanding, combined with strategic pieces of the above graphic, will help them to understand the place of these tools in the classroom. Time constraints are always an issue for teachers, and if they can see how having students creating videos is a “high learning impact” activity, they may be more likely to try it.

Supporting learning

I brought video into the classroom in my first year of teaching. It was the second week of school, and we had an assembly coming up where classes were expected to share something about their learning. I asked my students what they wanted to share, and their current obsession was with our class pet, a hamster named Baxter. So we brainstormed how a small animal could be shared with a gymnasium full of people. Before you knew it, we had a multimedia extravanganza. Video of our pet, students performing their poetry and sharing research and information about hamsters, and a student-composed piece performed on a portable synthesizer.

Well, we were the hit of the assembly … with the students. I was soon told by a colleague that I needed to stop showing off and start getting to know the other teachers, or I would have a very lonely year. So, our learning stayed within the classroom walls, and I made some very good friends who became my biggest supporters – critical for a new teacher.

Since then, I have continued to explore video with my students in different ways. This is an example early in my experimenting with movie creation of a grade 3 student project created using Movie Maker. They were using cameras to photograph images that they felt were strong metaphors for the main character in the novel they read.

BTW … he also composed his own music. I always seem to have these mini-Mozarts in my class!

Videosharing sites can be most powerful when they are not used as a replacement for the old 16 mm film projector. Our district already has a license for Unitedstreaming, where video content can be accessed. Videosharing sites should be for students to create and/or remix content, posting their videos, and then participating in feedback and further conversation. Participating in videosharing sites in this manner aligns with the American Association of School Librarians’ AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner

There are four key areas where learners use skills, resources and tools to:

  1. Inquire, think critically and gain knowledge.
  2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge.
  3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth (AASL, p. 3)

Students creating, sharing, and commenting on videosharing sites allows for all of the above skills to be addressed. We should not be limiting their access, but rather, directly teaching and modelling the above skills using these sites. In a conversation with our junior high staff around literacy last week, teachers expressed concern over the students’ inability to take on other perspectives, think critically, or apply knowledge to new situations. Yet, they identified building vocabulary and essay writing as key skills to develop in junior high.

Creating and sharing videos, viewing videos covering diverse perspectives, and participating in conversations around those perspectives can be an engaging way to help students transfer knowledge and see other points of view.

Video production is also part of their online experience already. Teachers concerned about the time factor and limited access to computers can begin with storyboarding, where images, narrative and music are plotted out prior to any video being taken. The critical and creative thinking used to synthesize the images and words into a narrative that flows cover multiple curricular areas. Simple tools such as Photostory, iMovie or  Animoto can be used to put the video together, or Flip cameras used as easy to manage tools for capturing video.

School districts and teachers continue to make the decision to limit student access to social networking and videosharing, believing that there needs to be protection from the unsavory content present on sites such as YouTube.  Yet, as Richardson (2009) argues, “the other alternative is to teach students the skills they need to navigate the darker sides of the web safely and effectively.” I would agree that with younger students the protections need to be put in place, but as students move into upper elementary and junior high, we need to recognize that they are participating in an online world. As Ito, et. al (2010, p. 343) state:

“The problem lies not in the volume of access but the quality of participation and learning, and kids and adults need to first be on the same page on the normative questions of literacy and learning. … If parents can trust that their own values are being transmitted through their ongoing communication with their kids, then new media practices can be sites of shared focus rather than sites of anxiety and tension.”

I find myself now pondering this overarching question around Web 2.0 and our definition of and practices in literacy instruction:

How do these practices change the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge? (Ito, et. al., 2010)

It’s time to try and help our kids navigate these sites, learn how to participate in an ethical and respectful manner, and share their voice. As teachers, we cannot continue to control the content, the manner of presentation, and the access to information, or we will kill more than the radio star.

The current video star of the Internet …

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

If I had a photograph of you …

If I had a photograph of you
It’s something to remind me
I wouldn’t spend my life just wishing …
(Wishing) If I Had a Photograph of You – A Flock of Seagulls
Image credit FYImusic.ca

Oh, the 80’s … a time of poor hair and fashion decisions. For many of us, this type of photographic evidence is best kept hidden in a box or album somewhere in a closet, only to be revisited in a fit of nostalgia – or when your teenager runs across the box and proceeds to laugh hysterically and mock you. I find that the proper response to teenage scorn is to prove their point by discarding all personal dignity … in fact, my rendition of Flashdance is quite remarkable for its’ ability to make any teenager flee the room. Ah, the power of the arts!

However, now this type of humiliation can be openly shared with the world, through photosharing tools such as Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, and Facebook. A few simple clicks and your photographs can now be shared with friends and relatives anywhere, giving them access to the small and large events in your life.

Admittedly, I am not much of a photographer and the only camera I have is on my iPhone. After the initial zeal of documenting endless hours of my son’s young life, I found that I was far too busy to remember to buy batteries or film for the camera, and when digital technology came along I was out of the habit of taking pictures.

I have a deep appreciation for talented photographers, and my favourite design blogs to read are filled with images that inspire me. I love to look at images of well-designed spaces, and read both design magazines in print and online, lusting over the beautiful homes that I wish I could own … my “design porn”.

Learning Flickr

In selecting a photosharing tool to use, I went to all of the above listed sites as I was familiar with all of them through previous experiences. Each provided me with the opportunity to easily upload pictures with a few clicks, label and tag photos, create groups, and view them in a slideshow. They were all easy to use, requiring a simple sign-up and a few clicks to begin uploading images. I was seriously considering going with Picasa to stay consistent with my Google accounts (one log-on address and password has a distinct advantage), but as I am currently using WordPress for my blog anyway I decided to explore further before deciding.

I moved on to thinking about some of the ways I might want to use photosharing with students. I started with exploring images of autumn, as our trees have started to change colour and it is a great time for photographic inspiration. As I explored each tool, I tried narrowing the search to images that were marked with a Creative Commons license, looking for images that were okay to share or modify. This is where I decided upon Flickr, as there is a larger community of users participating and sharing images, and I felt that there would be more selection for students when searching for images to use in their work.

So, after a week of exploring, my hair only slightly resembles the lead singer of A Flock of Seagulls, but I have not “run so far away” from Photosharing, having discovered a variety of ways to use Flickr in my personal and professional life.

Flickr for personal use

As I have admitted, I am not a photographer and have never felt compelled to take photographs of the events in my life. It often never occurs to me to take a picture until after the fact, and yes, there are times I am “wishing I had a photograph of you.” I do find with my iPhone that I am more likely to take pictures, but I often just pull it out when shopping so I can quickly take a photo and comparison shop.

My goal this year personally is to put as much as possible in the “cloud”, so that I may have access wherever I am. I have found too often I am in need of something that is saved on a computer somewhere else, and working between two schools with laptops and desktops, along with my personal laptop, means I need to make everything accessible. I have already started with bookmarks on Diigo, and will begin to move documents into Google docs and images into Flickr.

Flickr for educators

I do enjoy using visual images in the classroom in a variety of ways, from having students interpret historical photographs, select images as metaphors for the choices a character makes in a novel, or learn how to compose an effective photograph using lighting, framing, and contrast. I have taught students how to manipulate digital images using Photoshop, and incorporate them into digital stories using movie making software.

Most of this work was done in school, and when students worked with images at home they carried them back and forth on USB keys. I had not yet leveraged the use of photosharing sites, and now being in two schools that want to move towards students creating and colloboratively in the “cloud”, I know that I need to get better at this.

I’m loving the idea that Richardson (2009) shared in Blogs, Podcasts and Wikis of having students looking for images tagged in a certain way (such as clouds), and then setting up an RSS feed to follow new images as they are posted. I am thinking about ways to introduce Web 2.0 tools to teachers in my schools, and this would be a way to introduce both the Google Reader and Flickr that would be manageable for teachers to handle. Younger students could be tracking images of weather or the seasons, and older students images related to current events. It would also be a great way to introduce them to tagging and how to narrow their search and also tag images appropriately.

The Thinking Machine Wiki also provides a variety of great ideas for using Flickr in the classroom, including some lesson ideas on teaching students about Creative Commons and the licensing of images.  http://thinkingmachine.pbworks.com/Think-Photo-Sharing-with-Flickr. As an educator, I can see the critical importance of teaching students about their role as a digital citizen, as we look at the ethical use of images online. Teachers are turning to me as the teacher-librarian to provide them with resources and a common message to students about cyber-citizenship. In addition, cyberbullying is already raising concerns three weeks into the school year. Common Sense Media provides a Cyber-Smart curriculum  http://cybersmartcurriculum.org/ and lessons designed for a variety of grade levels that we will begin incorporating into our work with students.  http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators

Flickr for professional learning

What I am excited about is how Flickr can become part of my professional learning community, along with Twitter and RSS feeds. I have created a group for EDES 544, and I am inviting all students in the course to post photographs of the library they work in. As a teacher-librarian setting up two new libraries, I have had limited time to be creative in the space due to the amount of work it takes to catalogue and process classroom resources, and unpack and sort library books. I am very interested in seeing the spaces that my colleagues in this course are working in, and sharing inspirations for displays and design. Here are some images from my newly set-up library … a work in progress, but if you had seen the mountain of cardboard boxes just three weeks ago, you would know how far we have come!   http://www.flickr.com/photos/shelljob/sets/72157625042550004/

As a visual person who is very interested in design, I feel that sharing through Flickr will really support the professional learning of the group. I also hope that seeing where everyone “lives”, (so to speak) will help us all get to know each other even better, so I invite everyone in Web 2.0 to join the EDES 544 Library group on Flickr and post photos of your space. Show us your space!


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment