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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.