Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blogging to Learn – A Reflection

Writing this blog has been a meaningful and worthwhile learning experience. The process has truly been one of Inquiry. While researching and writing blog posts, I found myself connecting with and progressing through Alberta Learning’s Focus On Inquiry stages, identifying with the elements of the affective domain. Although creating this blog consumed a considerable chunk of my time available for homework, I was motivated and excited about my learning; driven by questions and able to construct knowledge based on my research and experiences. I now have a product that I feel I can refer to and share with others to continue to build understanding.

I felt very intimidated creating my first few posts, mostly because of the audience. I found it challenging to move from the relative privacy of an (online) classroom to the public realm of the internet. It took me a few weeks to find my “blogging voice” as I was uncertain about my online identity and concerned about the quality of my writing. A turning point for me in understanding the value of blogging was when Will Richardson commented on one of my early posts; I suddenly realized the potential for and the power of connection and knowledge sharing in blogging. Reading blogs, commenting, and reading and responding to the comments on my blog, soon became a highlight for me. I only wished I had more time to read more thoroughly and respond in more detail.

Frustration in this process came in the form of technical challenges. I am relatively new to technology (I made my first hyperlink just 6 months ago) and while many of the tools we explored were user-friendly, there were many late nights and early mornings where I was struggling: stumped at how to get the technology to work. Online tutorials, referring to Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms and reading the blogs of others were a great help. Having a deadline was necessary, but at times, incredibly stressful. (I certainly wish I had read the course outline more carefully to realize I had two weeks for pod-casting instead of one!) Although pod-casting was the biggest technological challenge for me, I think there is tremendous potential for this tool to transform teaching and learning. I intend to make further attempts at pod-casting this summer, perhaps using a Mac computer, in order to feel more comfortable using it with my students.

I learned a great deal from reading the blogs of my classmates. My bookmarking site (invaluable) is rich with sources I have gathered from these blogs. Many design ideas and techniques to enhance blogs (screen shots for example-thanks Ronda and John!) have come from the blogs of my classmates. I have enjoyed and learned from the different writing styles and the various choices for blog software. I have set up a new blog on Edublogs to use with my colleagues for professional development where I plan to use many of the blogging techniques I have learned from the clever and innovative folks in this course.

Overall, the creation and management of this blog to explore the use of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom has been significant in my learning, albeit challenging. As a result of researching, experimenting, reflecting and writing to complete this blogging assignment, I feel confident using many of these tools in my teaching and am prepared to help others to learn to use them. Although I am a bit exhausted from the pace, I am entirely grateful for this experience as it has inspired me to begin integrating technology into my teaching in more effective, collaborative ways and to continue to blog and read blogs, connecting with other learners.

A Note on Assessment

Ross Todd on Evidence-Based Practice states, “You must make clear statements based on concrete evidence that your students have benefited from your lessons.” As teachers work through the Developmental and Proficient stages of Collaborative Apprenticeship, progressing toward Mastery, we will encourage them to gather evidence to highlight how the technology of blogging plays a role in boosting student achievement, in shaping attitudes and in constructing a more effective learning environment. We will also encourage teachers to comment on the integrated use of technology on report cards. This evidence will help us encourage other staff members to adopt the use of integrated technology and will help us evaluate our progress in meeting school goals.

Hopefully by this time next year, most teachers in our school will be using blogs successfully with students. At this point we will assess the effectiveness of the Collaborative Apprenticeship Model to determine if we will continue to use this approach to introduce further Web 2.0 tools.

A Plan for Pro-D

It is clear to me teachers at my school have different levels of readiness with regards to learning about using Web 2.0 tools in their teaching. In Online-Learning Communities: The Next Generation of Professional Development, Melinda George reminds us that “…every educator has different skill sets, goals, and challenges at various times in their professional lives, so their desire for information, knowledge, expertise, and technical competence varies accordingly. No one professional development offering is appropriate for all.” Offering a whole group professional development on blogging, with everyone expected to participate, would be ineffective with my staff and would likely create some resistance. At this point there are some teachers who are excited about learning to use these new tools, eager to explore ways these tools can enhance student learning. In our conversations around school goals, there is consensus that there is a need for teachers to build capacity in their ability to integrate technology into the classroom. These teachers are ready to begin building that capacity.

Evan M.Glazer and Kathy Page (2006) in Collaborative Apprenticeship, have found that “after-school workshops and one-on-one assistance to teachers have not enabled many teachers to become self-reliant in their regular use of technology.” Glazer and Page found that following a process they call Collaborative Apprenticeship, where the technology coordinator and a teacher leader facilitate the learning of a group of teachers to advance and sustain their collective knowledge, teachers have become more comfortable solving problems and developing ideas to integrate technology rather than relying on the technology coordinator as their sole source for new ideas and technology training.

I think the Collaborative Apprenticeship model would work very well in the context of my school. I have volunteered as the lead teacher, working with our district Technology Instructional Support Teacher (who likes this idea) to provide ongoing support and development for teachers as they integrate technology into their instructional practices. To start, we will ask teachers from different grade levels to volunteer to be part of a “Technology 4 Learning Team”. In establishing this group, we would need to address the readiness criteria established by Glazer and Page of:

Shared time
Variety of Experience
Structured agenda around a shared curriculum topic

Once the volunteers are identified and a commitment is made to both the shared time and the learning, we will bring our varied experience together to structure our meetings and activities around the first shared curriculum topic, perhaps “Blogging to Improve Student Achievement in Reading”. PSSSST! I am told by my principal that it is possible we will be able to provide incentive for the team members - perhaps a laptop? That might help with commitment!

During the Shared Time the lead teacher will mentor peers, and the Technology Instructional Support Teacher (IST) will consult with the group by giving advice, sharing strategies, and providing feedback. Teachers will explore blogging tools, discuss anticipated challenges, brainstorm new ideas and collectively plan lessons with the lead teacher and the Technology IST acting as guides and facilitators.

Two resources will be used to introduce teachers to blogging in the classroom, Blog Basics for the Classroom and the book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Initially, we will have teachers explore how blogs are used in classrooms by looking at the samples in Blog Basics for the Classroom. Next we will have them read and make comments on a blog I have created for the “Technology 4 Learning Team”. Then we will have them set up their own blogs where they will post their monthly class newletters. Once the teachers are comfortable managing their new blogs, we will begin adding their students to the class blogs, addressing security issues and district policies, having students post their work and comment on the work of other students. After this introduction stage, we will work together to: plan lessons using blogs, implement the lessons and reflect upon them. Gradually the teachers will gain independence and the capacity to mentor others. Throughout this process we will present blogging as a tool that can be used to improve student learning by simply enhancing what teachers already do, rather than adding more to their responsiblities. We will look at how blogging can replace some of what is already happening in the classroom with a more efficient, effective, collaborative approach.

To maintain administrator support (which is strong at this point), we will invite our administrators to group planning sessions to participate in the collaboration and brainstorming and will encourage them to observe lessons that illustrate how technology can be used to spark students’ interest and learning.

Teachers will progress through the four developmental phases of Collaborative Apprenticeship. Glazer and Page believe the first three phases should be accomplished in nine-week intervals with the last phase being ongoing throughout the teachers’ careers. We will attempt to accomplish the first phase before the end of this school year so that we can begin a new cycle by the middle of the next school year. The four phases are:

Introduction - teachers become comfortable, lab based, mentors modelling, hands-on experience to anticipate and address student questions

Developmental - collaborative lesson planning integrating technology, the technology coordinator provides advice and feedback to teachers learning to design technology rich lessons, implement, reflect, repeat, mentor needed less and less

Proficient - teachers develop lessons independently, consulting with mentors when needed, mentors continue to promote peer development, teachers expected to generate original ideas, implement and share (4 weeks to a year)

Mastery - teachers are competent, comfortable and begin to mentor other teachers

As M.A. Anderson in Jump Starting Staff Development states, “Staff development is as much about providing opportunities as it is about direct instruction.” As novices work closely with more experienced peers in Collaborative Apprenticeship, they will be provided with opportunities to explore and build understanding so that they can design, develop, and implement technology-rich lessons within their curriculum.

In “Training” is for dogs: Teachers Teach: Teachers Learn, Janet Murray concludes, "Educational practitioners, researchers, and reformers agree that effecting change and infusing technology in schools cannot be accomplished through simple skill training. Professional development must be grounded in interdisciplinary curriculum which is locally and personally relevant, staffed by experienced teachers who are patient mentors willing to provide ongoing support, and flexibly structured to allow for independent exploration as well as cooperative learning activities. Genuine rather than simulated research of meaningful questions which use technology as an essential tool rather than the goal of instruction will provide the basis for effective professional development."

Choosing a Tool

The teachers at my school are new to Web 2.0, just as I was before taking this course. While many of the tools we have explored over the past three months will improve my teaching, a blog is perhaps the most user-friendly and is appropriate for student use at all grade levels. Embedded in each of our school goals for next year is a plan to include the use of technology to facilitate learning. Blogging is an easy and effective way to integrate technology to enhance teaching and learning across the curriculum.

Learning Specialists, Drs. Fernette and Brock Eides believe that blogging has a great deal of potential to positively impact students. They found that blogs can

· Promote critical and analytical thinking
· Be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational 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 addition, blogging is a great way to document professional development. Teachers learning how to blog and how to use blogging in the classroom can use a blog to reflect on their experience and communicate and collaborate with others. Blogs can also provide evidence of professional development for Personal Growth Plans.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Blogs and Pro-D

Finding blogs written by leading researchers or practitioners in a field (Joyce Valenza comes to mind) and adding them to a blog aggregator is an effective way of enhancing professional development. Reading an article in a professional journal is valuable but interacting on a blog by responding and reading responses to that article enhances understanding. Reading the latest reflections of bloggers like Valenza, Warlick and Richardson not only keeps me current but gives me the opportunity to actually connect with these “big thinkers” by responding to their posts. Also, being able to follow links from a blog makes the learning a richer experience. Often books (for further professional development) are featured on blogs and can be easily ordered.

Blogs that include videos of conferences and ask follow-up questions (like the TLDL blog) can bring communities of professionals together to discuss research findings and new ideas related to their practice. It is even possible to participate in an entire conference on a blog like the K12 Online Conference 2007.

The quality of professional development delivered by a blog aggregator is only as good as the quality and relevance of its blogs and the degree to which one participates in those blogs. In addition to those mentioned above, some blogs I have included in my aggregator are:

Moving at the Speed of Creativity
Teachers Teaching Teachers
Bud the Teacher
Edublog Insights
The Committed Sardine
The FischBowl
Infinite Thinking Machine
Libraries Interact
Strength of Weak Ties
Alan November Weblog

To look for other blogs that might enhance professional development, consider visiting blog indexing sites like Technorati, where you can create a “watchlist” for your topic of interest. Will Richardson’s wiki of Blogs on Educational Blogging is another list of blogs for educators.

Choosing an Aggregator

Google Reader and Bloglines are web-based services that can be accessed anywhere there is an internet connection and are simple to use. I like the visually pleasing straightforward interface of Google Reader.

Setting up and account with Google Reader was as simple as providing an email address and a password, then confirming registration in an email. I began entering my subscriptions immediately by clicking Add Subscription and copying the URL of the desired blog in the space provided. Now whenever I want to see what is new on the blogs I have subscribed to, I simply open Google Reader, where I will find a list of the latest additions from all my subscriptions. I have the option of creating folders for my feeds and can also access Google Reader on my cell phone! Once I had added a few subscriptions, Google Reader produced a list of recommendations for further subscriptions, based on my interests (indicated by my subscriptions). It is also simple to add blogs to Google Reader (or Bloglines) by clicking the XML or RSS link on the blog and then selecting the blog aggregator with whom you are registered.

From Wikipedia:
“More advanced methods of aggregating feeds are provided via AJAX coding techniques and XML components known as Web widgets. Ranging from full-fledged applications to small fragments of code that can be integrated into larger programs, they allow users to aggregate OPML files, email services, documents, or feeds into a single interface. Many customizable homepage/portal implementations such as iGoogle,, My Yahoo!, and Pageflakes provide such functionality."

What is a Blog Aggregator?

When I first started reading blogs, I was overwhelmed by the amount of new information being created and found myself baffled, wondering how to keep up. I was relieved to learn about RSS (what Will Richardson refers to as “The Killer App for Educators”) and feed aggregators, also known as feed readers or news readers. RSS, which stands for Real Simple Syndication, is a technology that can simplify life with the internet and deeply enhance the quality of information we receive. (For a clear explanation of RSS, see this CommonCraft video from YouTube.)

Blogs (and many other internet sites) generate a feed (marked by a small box labelled RSS) that allows readers to subscribe to the content that is created on that site. What this means is I no longer have to check each of my favourite blogs for new information. With Real Simple Syndication, the information comes to me. When I use an aggregator to subscribe to the RSS (sometimes labelled XML) feed of a blog, new information from that blog automatically appears in my aggregator.

Aggregators, like Bloglines or Google Reader greatly reduce the time and effort needed to regularly check websites for updates, creating a unique information space or personalized news collection. The aggregator provides a consolidated view of the content in a single browser display.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Using Facebook to Promote Your Library

In their article, Connecting and Communicating with Students on Facebook, librarians Sarah Miller and Lauren Jensen, discuss how to use Facebook as a potential marketing and reference tool for University or College Libraries. If you are a proponent of using social networking tools in educational settings, many of their ideas could be used for high school libraries, where patrons may also be Facebook users. Elementary and Middle School librarians probably wouldn’t have much of an audience using Facebook, aside from parents of the students.

Miller and Jensen point out librarians who join Facebook groups get minimal student response to library outreach because they create institutional profiles instead of personal ones. As this is against Facebook policy, Facebook deletes the profiles. Facebook encourages the individuals to replace their deleted institutional profiles with personal profiles and then form groups but Miller and Jensen believe a Group is one of the weakest ways to communicate using Facebook. They recommend a more powerful approach to social networking called Friend and Feed.

Using Facebook is about making new friends because without friends, few profiles are accessible. Librarians who want to use Facebook to promote events and services must connect with patrons to be effective. Miller and Jensen suggest a variety of ways to build a community on Facebook including:
-Join the Facebook groups of courses you are doing instructional sessions for and ask all of the students in them to be your Friend.
-Display your Profile during instructional sessions and invite students to seek you out.
-Friend new students at your fall welcome session by making a laptop available or by taking names on a sheet of paper.

New in 2006, the Facebook News Feed uses RSS technology to display updated Profile information from user's Friends. According to Miller and Jensen,

“Because they have the News Feed, most students spend time reading information that Facebook puts in front of them, not what they seek out on their own. We believe this is a critical point that can make or break a librarian's efforts to utilize Facebook. A static Profile, or a simple Group, will never appear in the News Feed. Additionally, if you don't have Friends, the information you share will never be posted in a News Feed either. Our simple Friend and Feed advice will help you avoid these missteps and take you to Facebook nirvana.”

To effectively get the information you want placed directly in front of students, it would be necessary to keep adding current information to your profile because the ones that are read the most are the ones that are frequently updated.

Librarians could use Facebook applications to:

· Get the word out about databases or new resources.
· Share holiday references.
· Upload the library's blog.
· Post contact information and office hours.
· Share favorite books, TV shows, interests, or quotes.
· Reply to questions from students on their own Walls.
· Photograph new books and share them in Albums
· Introduce the library's faculty, staff, and student workers.
· Create a library tour and put it in an album
· Describe how to use library technology, including software and hardware.
· Use the Events application to announce events and invite students.
· Connect with other teacher-librarians

Using Facebook to promote the high school library program may help students learn more about the services the library can provide but is this information what students want to read on Facebook? Some might say using Facebook in this way is not unlike telephone marketing. Just because the technology is accessible and will allow us to reach the masses doesn’t mean our message will be welcomed or received by our intended audience.

Facebook and Education - Is it a Match?

Although increasing numbers of adults are signing up for Facebook, many secondary and post-secondary students using Facebook do not welcome the presence of their teachers in a realm they consider to be their own. "Facebook was created as a place for students, not for professors," says Steve Moskowitz, a sophomore at the State University of New York College at Oneonta. Students should be able to express themselves freely there, he says, without worrying what some professor will think.

Sara Lipka in For Professors,‘Friending’ can be Fraught, reminds us that “The old guy in the corner at a college party can come off as creepy. The same goes for a faculty member on Facebook, the online hangout first populated by students... they are negotiating the famously fraught teacher-student relationship in new ways”.

As a teacher, I value the professional relationship I have with my students and their parents. I would not be comfortable being friends with my students or their parents on Facebook, due to its intended informal nature. Even if my purpose was to share information about school, I think the nature of the social networking tool blurs the professional line.

Greg Notess, in An About-Face on Facebook, says “The main problem with Facebook and similar sites is deciding if it is worth the time invested”. For those who are isolated from family and friends, social networking could be a great way to stay connected. For others, it can simply be a waste of time, compromising time left for real life social engagements. In his article, Notess provides useful information on different social networks, levels of privacy on Facebook and ways to search Facebook (both as a member and a non-member). Notess also cautions potential users about being aware of the changing population of Facebook and how difficult it is to fully delete a Facebook profile.

Facing the Facts About Facebook

To find out more about Social Networking in my community I began asking a range of people about their choices and reasons for using social networks. Facebook seems to be the choice over MySpace, because friends are also on Facebook. Generally people from 16 to 40 years of age use Facebook to communicate with friends, share photos and keep track of old friends. Few of the people over 40 that I talked to participate in social networking and most parents of students under the age of 16 prefer their students not use Facebook because of what they consider its public nature. Neither of my children have social networking accounts. When asked why, they expressed concerns over the way they have witnessed Facebook being used to ‘anonomously’ harass other students. My children are also reluctant to share personal information on the internet, having concerns about how that information may be accessed and misused.

Whether or not students approve, adults and teachers are signing on to Facebook. At the beginning of this master’s level course, we were asked to create a Social Networking account and develop a personal profile to learn about Social Networking. While I understand that participating is the most valuable way to learn, I remain reluctant to set up this kind of profile on the internet (especially after my failed attempts at trying to delete my membership with Jumpcut). A 19 year old friend of my daughter gave me access to his Facebook account, sharing his password so I could explore and participate in order to prepare this blog. Although I needed to do this if I was going to have a true understanding of how social networking works (without creating my own account), this illustrates just how easy it is for those not “invited as friends” to access information.

I am not willing to set up a profile on Facebook, nor any other social networking site, partly because of what I have read in Why You Should Beware of Facebook, by Tom Hodgkinson, who claims “the global rise of Facebook is a matter for concern rather than excitement.” This article takes a close look at the stakeholders in Facebook, their politics and their combined agenda. Hodgkinson concludes there are two options:

“Now, you may, like Thiel [a part owner of facebook] and the other new masters of the cyberverse, find this social experiment tremendously exciting. Here at last is the enlightenment state longed for since the Puritans of the 17th century sailed away to North America, a world where everyone is free to express themselves as they please, according to who is watching. National boundaries are a thing of the past and everyone cavorts together in freewheeling virtual space. Nature has been conquered through man's boundless ingenuity. Yes, and you may decide to send genius investor Thiel all your money, and certainly you'll be waiting for the public flotation of the unstoppable Facebook.

Or you might reflect that you don't really want to be part of this heavily funded program to create an arid global virtual republic, where your own self and your relationships with your friends are converted into commodities on sale to giant global brands. You may decide that you don't want to be part of this takeover bid for the world.”

I for one, don’t want any part of this capitalist venture where, as Hodgkinson says, "Share" is Facebookspeak for "advertise”. I agree with Hodgkinson, when he says,

“Sign up to Facebook and you become a free walking, talking advert for Blockbuster or Coke, extolling the virtues of these brands to your friends. We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships.”

Adrienne Felt, a fourth-year student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at U.Va., feels all of Facebook’s users should be concerned about security. Ms. Felt leads a research project on privacy issues surrounding social networking platforms and is investigating the information sharing that occurs when users download a Facebook application. In her study, Felt has found that use of these applications increase the user's vulnerability. An application appears as if it is part of Facebook's platform when it is actually running an on application developer's server. When a user installs an application, that application's developer is given the ability to see everything the user can see — name, address, friends' profiles, photos, etc..

"The Facebook privacy policy always seemed unsatisfactory to me," said Felt, an experienced Facebook application developer who found that 90.7 percent of Facebook's most popular applications unnecessarily have access to private data. Felt proceeds to warn us,

“There are currently no restrictions on what applications (and their developers) can do with user data, and though the Facebook "Terms of Use" warn developers not to abuse the data they have access to, Facebook cannot enforce this rule…In fact, when a user installs an application, the user's computer communicates with the Facebook servers and the Facebook servers then communicate with the application developer's servers. Once users' private data leave the Facebook servers, the company has no way of knowing what happens to it.”

Learning About Facebook

Facebook is a social networking technology, launched in a Harvard dorm room in 2004 that now connects more than 59 million people. Originally started as an outlet to bring together college students on different campuses, Facebook became public in 2007 and is now one of the most visited Web sites in the United States.

A Facebook Profile is a short biography created by the user that may contain personal, educational and/or work information. Users invite others to be their “Friends”. When profile information is updated, it appears in the News Feeds of a user's Friends. The Mini-Feed displays the last 10 updates the user has made to their Profile. Other Facebook applications include Albums, The Wall (a personal bulletin board where others are able to post messages), Status Updating, Notes (a cross between a Post-it note and a blog, including HTML formatting, photo uploading, and the ability to tag people) and Posted Items (similar to Notes, but they format pictures and comments using information from the Web site you want to share). Albums have many of the characteristics of photo-sharing sites like Flickr. Users can post photos and then include descriptions, tag people in the photos, and allow others to comment on them. Organizing photos and being able to make the Album available via a public URL to people who are not members of Facebook is an attractive feature. Users can communicate with their Friends by commenting on photos.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Jumpcut-I'll Give it a Miss

My first look at Jumpcut was to browse through the movies others had made and to make a couple of attempts at editing public videos. The editing was fairly easy and straightforward and certainly the idea of being able to upload clips, edit and add music to create a movie upon which the viewers can readily comment is appealing. One of the problems with this site, in my opinion, is the type of material that is being stored there. Although there is a warning that the site is only suitable for children over 13, the movies that have passed Jumpcut’s suitability test wouldn’t be acceptable for my 13 year old. Teachers who might allow their students to use this site would most likely encounter considerable backlash from parents. A quick browse through the favourites will demonstrate what I mean. Unlike Ed. VoiceThread, and TeacherTube, there doesn’t seem to be an educational (in the school sense) version of this tool. For now, I will stick with Windows Movie Maker.

I did try to upload some video clips to Jumpcut that I had successfully downloaded to Movie Maker (in minutes). I ended up trying several times (which took about 4 hours) and nothing appeared. I decided to give it a final try with small clips from my camera (which quickly loaded to VoiceThreads) and after a half hour of waiting, I gave up. In my opinion, VoiceThreads is a more efficient tool and one that I find more appropriate for use in schools.

Just a little more on Movie Maker. This was only my second time using this software and I would recommend it. It is easy to figure out, provides many options and is generally quick with downloads. Even younger students would be able to use this program. The only problem is, you have to burn the movie to a DVD to share it, unless you show it on your computer. You can email it if you are using the default email (Windows Outlook).

VoiceThreads in Schools

I can see many uses for VoiceThreads in schools. The folks at VoiceThread describe the tool as more like a pencil than a software platform. They introduce Ed.VoiceThread as “a space for creating digital stories and documentaries, practicing language skills, exploring geography and culture, solving math problems, collaborating with other students, or simply finding and honing student voices”. I can also see students using Ed.Voicethread for talking about favourite books, sharing artwork, evaluating art and brainstorming on a writing topic launched by a photograph. Physical Education teachers could even use this tool to tape games and comment on play. Parents could be invited into the discussion to comment on student work posted on VoiceThread. Students could comment on photos of class fieldtrips or author visits to share in a class newsletter.

Creating a VoiceThread

The process of making a Voicethread was relatively simple and user friendly. It was easy to set up an account and to import videos and pictures from my computer (one can also import photos from Flickr and Facebook). There is a one minute video on how to make a VoiceThread under the My Voice tab. Your VoiceThreads are stored under this tab after you make them under the Create tab.

On the other hand, getting the VoiceThread embedded in my blog was ultra-frustrating. I really wanted to do this without having to use a link. I watched the video on embedding in Edublog over and over again. I made several attempts at cutting and pasting the html, all of which have been unsuccessful. Perhaps the issue is with Blogger. I welcome any suggestions as to how to make this happen! For now, here is a link to My Voicethread.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Learning about VoiceThread

“A VoiceThread is an online media album that allows a group of people to make comments on images, videos, and documents, really simply. You can participate 5 different ways - using your voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam). It's easy to control who can access and comment on a VoiceThread, which makes it a secure place to talk about almost anything: business and academic presentations, travelogues, family history, art critiques, language study, tutorials, book clubs and digital storytelling. A VoiceThread allows an entire group conversation to be collected from anywhere in the world and then shared in one simple place”. (Received from VoiceThread in an email, after I registered for an account).

VoiceThread offers an audio/photo tutorial on how to use VoiceThread, made on VoiceThread, where you will find the multiple audio voices describing amusing points of view in the Muth family photo (shown above).
The phone commenting feature allows you to leave comments and navigate through VoiceThread from your phone if you don’t have a microphone. VoiceThread's Video Doodling feature allows you to control the playback of a video as you comment using a microphone or webcam; giving you the power to voice comment over specific portions of video. It allows you to move to a specific segment, doodle while you're there, then move to highlight another segment, all while leaving your comment. See it in action! I found I didn’t need a separate microphone as my laptop’s built in microphone worked well.

VoiceThreads in the Classroom offers a step by step guide to setting up a free educator account.

On the Voicethread blog, there is an audio overview of Ed.VoiceThread, specifically designed for K-12 educators and students. Note this is different from and educator account with VoiceThreads. Ed.VoiceThread provides a secure collaborative network for K-12 classrooms that is restricted to K-12 students, educators and administrators where content may be visible to everyone, but only students, educators and people specifically invited by educators can comment on the content. Students can work autonomously from home or school and can create their own VoiceThreads and portfolios, inviting others within the secure network to comment. As students can only add and invite others that are already within the system “all users are known users”. Every class or school is given its own URL.

But this kind of privacy is not free. The base school rate for Ed.VoiceThreads is $50/month or $600/year allowing up to 60 GB of bandwidth. There is a one time start up fee of $200. A Pioneer Class subscription rate is now available for the first 1000 applicants. Pioneer subscriptions are available for $10 for one month, or $60 to subscribe an entire class for the school year and allows an educator to offer every student his or her own account. If a school subscribes to the network within the first year, VoiceThread will refund the $60 paid by an educator who started a Pioneer Class. So hurry and get your subscription if you are interested in introducing your school to VoiceThread as a tool. Visit Ed.VoiceThread for more details and answers to FAQ’s.

Joyce Valenza in the School Library Journal blog, NeverEndingSearch, says

“I've been a huge fan of VoiceThread since I discovered it late last spring. In fact, every teacher I've shown it to falls for it instantly. We love its teeny-tiny learning curve and its huge potential for communicating and sharing stories, artifacts, art, etc.”

Alan Levine is also a fan of VoiceThread, calling it Easy PeasyRich Media in his blog.

In VoiceThreads, Flash and the Problems with GPO’s Susan Sedro, a tech coordinator in an international school in Singapore identifies some of the challenges of working with Voicethreads from within a school, including the changes required in proxy server settings and the installation of Firefox along with the Adobe Flash Plug-in.

Have a look at the videos in the video bar of this blog for an introduction and sample VoiceThread, directions for embedding a VoiceThread, and more instructions in a slideshow.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Concerns about Security

As educators, we must consider the security of sites in making decisions. There are a number of web-based wiki sites that require a password and a login system to interact with the site. I think it would be worth using these sites particularly with younger students and perhaps older students who are new to using wikis (simply because there would be less of a distraction from outside editors).

With both PBwiki and wikispaces, you can choose whether to mark your wiki as public or private with one click. With PBwiki, asking others to join, simply involves sending them the “join URL”, whereas with Wikispaces, you send your invitees the address of the wiki and they must request permission to join and wait until it is granted.
In his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, Richardson makes a case for keeping your wiki public, to access collaboration in its purest form. He points out that it might be beneficial having the class as a whole monitoring the content of the wiki, as wikis are easily restored if necessary and that students begin to teach each other when the management of the content is left up to them.

Using Wikis in Schools

Clearly there will be (if there isn’t already) concern on the behalf of educators about students using resources like Wikipedia to find information. The following is from Joyce Valenza’s teacherlibrarianwiki:

“My experience so far is that most librarians that I talk to are indignant that you would want to direct students to use a resource that very well may be inaccurate. I guess I agree to a point, but also see that wikis provide another opportunity to teach evaluative skills. I'd be worried if the wiki was an only source...but as one of many...well maybe--why not. It also depends on the project too. Some content is so timely that a wiki may be one of the few places to find information.

What's been discussed is the potential for students to actively create a wiki around a curricular theme. Why not ask students to contribute to a wiki to construct a historical perspective. Imagine the dynamics of students building knowledge--adding content to provide depth to an idea or topic. Could be quite exhilariting!”

I like the points Ms. Valenza makes about how we can teach our students to use wikis with a critical mind, enhancing their evaluative skills with other resources. Like Valenza, I think the real value in wikis is the potential for creative collaboration in classrooms. I also think wikis can be a great place to store, add to, and discuss information and ideas.

I can see using wikis with students create their own class wikipedia, to collaborate on a project or as a place to post students’ work and have others interact and edit that work. Older students could also be involved in helping to create an online text for a course or even contribute to the writing of a book (perhaps at wikibooks).

Below are a couple of great ideas for using wikis with students from the PBwiki blog, The Daily Peanut:

Students could use a wiki for a book review where each each student would create their own page, write a short review on a chapter and perhaps enhance it with links to articles about the author, the book and other articles. Then each student could visit the wiki page of a partner, review their partner’s links and edit the review or comment on the page.

Group the students into teams of three or four and have each group divide a collaborative research project between themselves. During computer lab ask your students to begin researching the topic, have them paste links and jot ideas down on individual pages. When ready to write the paper, have each student work on their own page and allow the group to edit each others pages. Paste the completed project into one wiki page.

Telling the New Story is an interview with a grade one teacher, Kathy Cassidy of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, illustrating how even the youngest students are able to use social software such as blogs, wikis and podcasts to share learning and exchange ideas with the world.

Wild about Wikis -- Tools for taking student and teacher collaboration to the next level by David Jakes, discusses classroom, professional development and administrative uses for wikis. An article in School Administrator, by Lane B. Mills called The Next Wave Now: Web 2.0 urges School Superintendents to look at using tools like wikis to enhance professional development and collaboration from the bottom up versus the top down. Educators could use wikis to collaborate on best-practice, enhancing professional development. Here is an example of a wiki on best practices for librarians.

Some companies are even marketing wikis to schools to augment textbooks. COSTP, (California Open Source Textbook Project) forecasts it will save the state of California more that 200 million dollars per year in K-12 textbook allocations.

South Africa’s national high school curriculum is on a wiki, which is interesting to say the least! You may edit this document if you wish, but your changes will identify your IP address. Hopefully someone is employed to oversee changes that are made; undoubtedly, wikis are creating new editorial jobs.

Teacher-librarians could effectively use wikis with teachers as collaborative tools to collect and share information on resources supporting the curriculum. A wiki could provide a showcase of library events or perhaps house the library website, where it could be easily edited and added to by interested students and staff. A wiki as a webpage would allow students to add to booklists (perhaps podcasting reviews) and comment on these lists.

Setting Up and Working On a Wiki

Setting up a wiki is simple, and like the name suggests, quick! In fact the Peanut Butter Wiki site claims one can set up a PBwiki in just 30 seconds. I thought I’d test PBwiki’s claim and surprisingly, it was that quick! It was also free. As I chose the education option, my site is without advertising, whereas wikispaces charges $5 a month to block the advertising. For me, the most time-consuming thing about setting up a wiki was choosing a name.

Before visiting PBwiki (which I did because I noticed Joyce Valenza ‘s wiki address), I had already set up a wiki using Wikispaces to begin a group assignment. Along with the other members of my group, I muddled along trying to create a virtual handout for our project. I was frustrated with wikispaces because the editing tools were clumsy and limited, lacking options for the basics like font color and size. PBwiki has just updated their editing software to make it efficient and to offer more options. They offer a tutorial on the editing tools by Ramit Sethi, one of the cofounders of PBwiki, which I found helpful. The goal was to make the editing more like what you find in MSWord, thus making it more user-friendly. I like the undo and redo buttons, which wikispaces did not have, as well as how easy it is to use the plug-ins to insert widgets. I also like how PBwiki sent me seven follow-up emails with tips on how to use wikis. It took about an hour and a half to transfer the work we had done on wikispaces to PBwiki and to edit and polish but the new look was worth it. You can compare the look of the two sites by visiting and

In working on the PBwiki today, I inadvertently lost everything on the home page! This turned out to be a good thing as I ended up learning how to delete the changes I had made and restore the page. For those who are interested, go to view pages (at the bottom center of your page), select your page and select “delete” for the changes you don’t want. Voila-it was that easy!

What is a Wiki?

Wiki is a short form of the Hawaiian word wiki-wiki, which means quick. A wiki is an easily made web page, where users can create and edit content and link to other web pages anytime they want. Wikis can be made using open source software such as Wikispaces or PBwiki. For short videos explaining wikis, see What is a Wiki or Wikis in Plain English.

Wikipedia is one of the best known wikis with 2, 249,000+ articles, contributed and edited by anyone choosing to do so, demonstrating the power of collaboration. The big questions is: if anyone can edit anything on the site, how can you trust what you read on a wiki? There must be concern for accuracy of information on sites like Wikipedia, but in Will Richardson’s view, it seems there are more people who are interested in getting it right than there are those who want to simply contribute or even vandalize. In the online magazine Slate, Chris Wilson in his blog The Wisdom of the Chaperones, criticizes Wikipedia for claiming to be democratic when in fact there is “authorial domination by 1 percent of contributors”. This certainly isn’t the kind of user-generated collaboration to which Wikipedia attests. Is this kind of management necessary to maintain reliability? Alex Halavais (2004), a professor from the University of Buffalo experimented by creating 13 errors on Wikipedia, which were all fixed within a couple of hours. In December 2005, the magazine Nature compared 43 entries in Wikipedia with the same entries in Encyclopedia Brittanica and found Wikipedia to be only slightly less accurate.

Like blogs, wikis are becoming popular in just about any aspect of life on this planet. You can find wikis on just about anything including Travel, Star Trek and even Teacher-Librarianship. Corporations have started using wikis to manage information and universities and colleges are beginning to use them with their faculty and students. This type of collaboration is becoming more popular, especially with controlled access to a wiki providing a quick and easy intranet.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Putting Your Virtual School Library to Work

Many hours can be spent researching and carefully building a virtual school library but it is what we do with it after construction that will determine whether or not it is effective. Franklin and Stephens in Creating Webpages for the 21st Century Library Media Center suggest ways to advertise a school library website after it is completed. They provide tips for getting the URL into the hands of students, teachers and parents. They also describe ways to promote the website through library activities to make it a tool that actually gets used by the students, teachers, parents and members of the community.

I like the way teacher-librarian Andrea Langelaar has contests for her students to get them using the Virtual School Library at Latimer Road Elementary.

Joyce Valenza in The Virtual Library, outlines the importance of a virtual library in extending the support and influence of school libraries by assisting students 24/7 in their search for and use of information. In discussing the various aspects of a virtual library, including the incorporation of technology for Web 2.0, Valenza illustrates how virtual libraries can provide instruction and guidance toward resources to support interaction with the library in person.

Fitzgerald and Galloway’s Helping students use virtual libraries effectively offers some useful approaches to teaching students how to use the virtual library. Collaborating with teachers to include resource-based learning in their lessons, using an information search model for students to follow and showing students the features and boundaries of the virtual library are all ways of getting students and teachers to successfully use the Virtual School Library.

Teacher-Librarians will find their Virtual School Libraries are most effective when the school webpage has a direct link to the virtual library and when teaching staff are taught how to make use of the virtual library. Ideally, the use of the OPAC system needs to be included, although this is often a problem due to school district security issues. It is critical that virtual school libraries are constantly updated and re-evaluated to best serve library users. If Web 2.0 tools are incorporated into the design, feedback and participation can be encouraged and updating the virtual school library will be easier.

Updating Your Virtual School Library

If you have already have a web site for a virtual library but it isn’t as effective as you had hoped, you might be interested in Remaking Your Web Site in Seven Easy Steps, where Walter Minkel presents seven considerations (which he calls commandments) essential to the remaking of a library web site. He looks at ways to make a site that is easy to navigate, presents clear information and provides links to great web sites and databases. Minkel provides examples with reference to two particular library websites, one that he has remade and another that he has newly created. Both websites are made using macromedia software called Dreamweaver.

Building a Virtual School Library

Before considering the design of your own virtual school library, it is worth visiting others, noting which services and information would be useful for your students and the elements of design that might work best. Below is a list of virtual school libraries I would recommend visiting:

Elementary Schools:
Chestnut Hill School, Cold Spring School, Parkcrest Elementary School, Grandview Elementary, John Newberry Elementary, Polson Elementary Library, Columbus School, and Latimer Road Elementary.

Middle and High Schools:
Pioneer Middle School, Esquimalt High School, Walter Johnson High School, New Trier High School, Prince of Wales Secondary School, and M.E. LaZerte High School.

The Singapore American School is an example of an international school’s virtual library.

Some Resources to Consult Before Building a Virtual School Library

Carol Collier Kuhlthau was providing direction for virtual libraries in 1996 with her book: The Virtual School Library: Gateways to the Information Superhighway. An excellent up-to-date resource is Your Library Goes Virtual by Audrey Church (2007). Church’s book provides a comprehensive description of the various components of a virtual library and provides many examples of sites that can be included.

The digital school library: A world-wide development and a fascinating challenge by David Loertscher (2003), is a journal article which identifies the virtual library as the digital hub of the school, a nurturing environment with customization for every student- consisting of the core collection, the curriculum collection and the elastic collection.

M. A. Anderson, in Your media program's web presence: A tool for advocacy and marketing, outlines the ways a school library Web site can be used as an advocacy tool. She suggests including school hours, contacts, your mission statement and your monthly report on your website. Anderson also recommends providing information on your website about your school’s reading program and the role of the Teacher-Librarian, including examples of collaboration as ways to advocate for your school library.

Clyde’s article, A strategic planning approach to web site management, outlines steps involved in creating and maintaining a web site, using a strategic planning approach. The stages of the process are outlined, including identification of goals, analysis of user needs, selection of content to be included, developing content, navigational aids and visual design of the site. Clyde examines HTML coding or use of page development software and mounting the completed pages on a web server. She also looks at publicity and promotion and site maintenance. Clyde also outlines criteria used by the IASL/Concord School Library Web Page of the Year Award. More information from Clyde is available in Quality web sites for education, which identifies several educational web sites, including AskEric, ACER and SLO. These sights would be useful for teacher-librarians in their planning with teachers and administrators and might provide valuable resources for professional development. There are numerous sites that include searchable databases, classified collections of curriculum resources and news and current information services in the field of education.

David Warlick in his article, Plan it. Design it. Build it. Put your web site to work, suggests examining the goal of a web site using a problem-solution approach. He emphasizes that one of the reasons to have a web site is to improve one’s ability to do their job. He describes strategies, tips and directions for improving school and classroom web sites, suggesting the web site designer take a close look at the audience. He suggests designing for scanning, clarity and impact and explores using both HTML and customized templates. Warlick provides more tips Building Web Sites That Work for Your Media Center. These include examining the audience and knowing what you want the website to do for you and for them. Warlick takes a close look at what to consider for content, format, design, media and layout. The content and layout tips are excellent.

Why are Virtual Libraries Important?

The 2002 PEW Internet & American Life Project report, The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and their Schools confirms that today's middle and high school students use the Internet heavily, stating that "Virtually all use the Internet to do research to help them write papers or complete class work or homework assignments ... as virtual textbook and reference library. ... For the most part, students' educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building, outside the direction of their teachers."

Audrey Church in his article Virtual school libraries-the time is now (2005) states
“If we are to help students become information-literate-critical assessors, evaluators, and users of information-we have to meet them on the Web and provide library service and instruction online, at the point of need.” He provides us with two scenarios of students, one of which has access to a virtual school library.

Scenario 1: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, does a quick Google search on genetics, prints out information from a few dot-com sites, and he is good to go.

Scenario 2: Brandon realizes that his biology research project on genetics is due tomorrow. It is Sunday evening, 6 p.m. No problem! He logs on to the Internet, opens his Web browser, goes to his school library Web site, and clicks on the pathfinder created collaboratively by his library media specialist and classroom teacher. Using their suggestions, he finds basic information in an encyclopedia through Grolier Online, and journal articles and newsletters from the SIRS Knowledge Source and Infotrac Student Edition. Through the library's online catalog, he reads portions of a few Follett e-books on genetics. To finish off his research, he visits a couple of the Web sites suggested in the pathfinder. Works cited? Referring to the works cited section of the school library Web site, he soon has his references listed in complete MLA format.

If we want students to use the school library as Brandon does in Scenario 2, we need to make it available to them when and where they need it (which is often at home, outside library hours) and we need to provide the resources they are looking for. A well constructed virtual school library will compete with the convenience of search engines like Google and what’s more, it will offer guidance to students, facilitating the educational goal of information literacy.

What is a Virtual Library?

Until recently, my understanding of this concept was based on being able to access a library’s OPAC from my home computer to search for, reserve and renew books. This saved hours of my time and I was thrilled with the convenience. Now, as I work on courses in an online distance learning program, I have learned that I can also search for resources, including databases, remotely, through the virtual library at the University of Alberta. Virtual libraries in universities have levelled the academic playing field. As long as a registered student has a computer with an internet connection, they have access to materials in the university library, whether they are in Anchorage, Sioux Lookout, Burns Lake or in the city where the university is located.

More that just access, many virtual libraries offer services a real librarian might typically offer, like citation guides, copyright information, library cards and questions answered (via instant messaging or email). Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township High School virtual library (outstanding in its field of virtual school libraries) offers a virtual tour, extensive links for students and teachers, online lessons, a list of pathfinders (including one called College Search) as well as access to the library catalogue and databases.

Many schools have library websites, designed to promote library events and give information about library hours, staff and programs. Some of these websites are also portals into the school’s virtual library, where resources can be accessed and library services and instruction are available online, 24/7.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Storing and Downloading a Podcast

Some blog software like Movable Type, WordPress, and Manila have automatic support for MP3 attachments. As I am using Blogger, which does not allow you to add the MP3 file automatically, so I chose to use, which provides free storage for videos, audio files, photos text or software. This was not easy. I spent an entire evening trying to upload my MP3 file and then download it to my blog. I think my podcast is somewhere in cyberspace now, hopefully on, but it doesn’t seem to want to be a part of the blog. I will look at it again tomorrow with fresh (uncrossed) eyes.

Trying Again

It is Will Richardson who rescues me again! Instead of trying to copy the HTML code onto my blog post (as OurMedia suggests), I copied and pasted the URL (like Richardson suggests) and on the second try, it WORKED. (Huge sigh of relief). If I were to do this with students, it would be worth using Wordpress for my blog, just so I don’t have to go through this process everytime I want to post a podcast. I would say learning about podcasts and subscribing to them was easy but learning to make a podcast is clearly more complex. I will need more time to master this Web 2.0 tool and certainly must invest more time in order to feel comfortable enough to use this tool with my students.

Making a Podcast

To prepare myself for making my first podcast, I skimmed through PoducateMe - Practical Solutions for Podcasting in Education, an extensive and detailed 192 page resource. At first glance, this resource was daunting, partly because of its volume but also due to its technical language. I think this will be a very helpful resource to come back to when I have more time. I also looked at Eric Rice’s blog entry: How to build a 10 minute podcast. Rice claims that “as a society, people have become conditioned over generations to expect certain patterns in radio-like content” so he has created guidelines for producing short, organized shows that can help you either get started in podcasting or organize your existing podcast into manageable, predictable chunks. Rice provides some good ideas around structure to keep in mind for the future. Both of these are great resources but with the time crunch of these assignments I need something a little more basic, so I have returned to my favourite resource for Web 2.0 tools, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Web 2.0 Tools for Classrooms, by Will Richardson. Richardson gives instructions for making your first podcast in four pages of relatively clear instructions dotted with useful suggestions. At Richardson’s suggestion, I downloaded Audacity to create the MP3 file and then I spent a little time looking at the wiki Creating a simple voice and music podcast with audacity.

Going back to Richarson’s list of what one needs to make a podcast, I had the digital audio recorder that can create an MP3 file and the blog but still needed to think of something to say. I also needed to find a microphone and space on a server to host the file. I decided to start with reading a story as this is what I would like my students to do. I found St. Valentine’s Story on the internet and practiced reading it a couple of times. I made a few recordings without the microphone just to practice using Audacity and found I was satisfied with the sound, so didn’t bother searching out the microphone. Using Audacity was as simple as pressing record and stop. I used the tools to take out pauses, employing Richardson’s book as a guide. I tried to follow Richardson’s instructions to get music to add to my podcast by visiting Wikimedia Commons, but I could not export the music I wanted to Audacity. I finally gave up and decided to leave the story without music for now. I saved the file and remembered to export it as an MP3 file (located under the File menu), using yet another open-source software program called LAME, which is Audacity’s MP3 encoder. When I have a little more time, I will take another look at Creating a simple voice and music podcast with audacity and PoducateMe for tips on enhancing a podcast. For now, I need to focus on finding the server space and downloading the podcast to my blog.

Using Podcasts in Schools

Something I would like to try with students is my school is using podcasts to enhance reading skills. Students could practice reading stories with fluency and expression in preparation for reading them on a podcast. Both parents and other students (including younger students) could then listen to the podcasts. The podcast-producing students and their teacher’s could use the podcasts to evaluate students’ fluency and expression. These podcasts could be included in e-portfolios. Once comfortable with the podcast format, students could progress to writing short stories, poems or skits to podcast for a similar audience.
I love the idea of using podcasts to make broadcasts (like Radio Willow Web) of what is happening in the school, not only showcasing student work but helping students to develop oral presentation skills.
Think of the paper that could be saved by making the school newsletter available on a podcast! Parents could “listen” to the school news while preparing dinner or driving. Parent Advisory Council meetings could be made available via podcast for parents who are unable to attend regular meetings. Band or music performances could also be podcasted for self-evaluation, in lieu of sending performance tapes for engagements, or for parents who miss performances. Language teachers could make podcasts of practice lessons. Podcast links on research topics could be posted on the school’s library website along with other research links for particular classes or grades.
Podcasting is a valuable tool to accommodate different learning styles. Students who find text-based resources challenging would benefit from being able to access information in an auditory mode. Using iPods to do research could be a great motivational tool! Perhaps in a few years, our school supply list will include a set of personal earphones to be used with school iPods.

Subscribing to Podcasts

As I mentioned in my previous post, finding podcasts is relatively easy and there are thousands from which to choose. I am learning that I can not only listen to or watch podcasts on my computer but I can also download and save the podcast file on my computer and then play it using iTunes or Windows Media Player. Once the file is downloaded, it can be transferred to my iPod so that I can listen to what I want, when and where I want! What’s more, I can subscribe to podcasts through RSS podcast feeds, like Juice, Doppler and iTunes.
As an alternative to iTunes for subscribing to podcasts, Will Richardson recommends downloading the ipodder client by visiting (which turned out to be a dead site). It seems ipodder has been replaced by Juice - so I decided to give Juice a try. This was very frustrating as my security software kept giving me warnings during the download. I aborted the first attempt and then decided to take the risk and installed the Juice program after all. With the download complete, I copied the URL of the desired podcast subscription into Juice, which attempted the download, with more warnings about the “unsecure source”. I panicked and uninstalled Juice. It was back to iTunes for me.

Subscribing to podcasts on iTunes was very user-friendly. I simply went to iTunes on my computer and clicked on the Podcast link from the source list on the side menu. At the bottom of the page, I clicked on Podcast directory and then I was able to browse through different podcasts in different categories. When I found a podcast for which I wanted a subscription, I clicked on the Subscribe button and it appeared in downloads and was soon on the list under podcasts. On the podcast page, under the settings button, I can decide how often I want my iTunes to check for updates. Now I can listen to my favourite CBC radio programs anywhere, anytime.

What are Podcasts and Where Can I Find Them?

When I first looked at Valenza’s Manifesto for a 21st Century Librarian, podcast was a term I had heard but only vaguely understood. I have since learned that podcasts are audio or video media files that are made available on the Internet, like a radio show or a video (sometimes called a vodcast) that you can listen to or watch on demand, either on your computer or on a portable media player. A podcast is distinguished from other digital media formats by the fact that it can be subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added, using a podcast aggregator.
According to Will Richardson, anyone equipped with a microphone, a digital audio recorder that can create an MP3 file, space on a server to host the file, a blog and something to say can make a podcast. I have to admit, it doesn’t sound that easy to me.
Podcasts are often regular people talking about things that interest them however, major broadcasting organizations like the CBC are making many of their programs available in podcast format. I was surprised at how many professional and amateur podcasts are available, absolutely free. In the iTunes podcast directory there are podcasts on everything from learning to speak French to doing Yoga. In’s podcast listings, I found podcasts about radio shows, newspaper and magazine-produced audio, museums, writers, art galleries and more. I am interested in subscribing to a couple of podcasts from the CBC Podcasts, like Between the Covers and The Current, as I am often busy when the live broadcasts are happening. Podcastalley has links to several education-related shows (of varying quality) and Education Podcast Network has numerous ideas for classroom use of podcasting. I could easily get carried away, browsing through podcasts, but must return to learning how to subscribe to them!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Using Social-Bookmarking in Schools

Like many of the web 2.0 tools, social bookmarking can be used to enhance learning in today’s classrooms. I liked this web2tutorial on social-bookmarking, presented on a wiki, which includes some good examples of educational benefits and classroom applications. It also contains a list of real-world teachers’ bookmarks.

All Together Now, by Donna DesRoches (2007) looks at how librarians can use social-bookmarking tools, offering specific examples of working collaboratively with a theatre arts teacher, a biology class and a health teacher.

The article Identifying Key Research Issues, points to the The International Society for Technology in Education’s Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET), which says technology improves student learning when it directly supports curriculum objectives, provides opportunities for student collaboration, adjusts for student ability and prior experience, is integrated into the typical instructional day and provides opportunities for students to design and implement projects that extend beyond the curriculum. The technology of social-bookmarking could be used in ways that would meet all of these critieria.

As well as providing students with a way to organize and access what they find useful on the web, social-bookmarking could be used for teachers to automatically send information to their students. Teachers could set up a folder on Furl for a subject they are teaching. If their students subscribed to an RSS of that folder, they would automatically receive all the links (and the comments on those links) that the teacher adds to the folder. This system could also be used to individualize learning by having separate folders for each student, sending them links and comments or questions, particularly suited to their area of study. If students are doing their work on a blog, teachers could tag students’ best work in a folder (with a unique tag) for parents to search on the social-bookmarking site. Students could also save links to a class archive (with a shared password). Teachers would be able to see if all students are participating. The list of links would be useful not only for research but for teaching critical thinking in evaluating the resources. Perhaps the evaluated list could be exported to become part of a pathfinder on that topic.

I see many uses for social-bookmarking in teacher collaboration. Saving, tagging and sharing sites with colleagues will not only make our jobs easier in terms of access to resources but will also evoke professional conversations, adding to a culture of learning in our schools where we move from isolationism to collaboration.

Folksonomies vs. Taxonomy

When we use social bookmarking services, we are helping to create a new way of organizing information to be used for research. In my cataloguing course we are learning about the importance of standard rules for organization to ensure access, yet social bookmarking is, as Richardson says, “run by millions of amateurs with no real training in classification”. There is clearly great potential for chaos in this kind of organization, although some argue that tagging allows us to see the way others interpret the information we are using, that participation is easy and that tagging data is helpful as new ways to find information. Folksonomies Tap People Power is a short but informative article about folksonomies created by tagging.

Information Overload?

Will Richardson discusses information overload in blog post on tagged vs. trusted sources. Just when it seems like a social-bookmarking service is your answer to information overload, it becomes clear that subscibing to RSS feeds on tags could become another way to add to this overload! Richardson suggests subscribing to specific sources and even specific tags from those sources, to avoid spam and receiving more information than you can possibly read. I found it amusing (and a little frightening) that Richardson backs up his bookmarks in his bloglines by subscribing to his own Jots feed! Both Alan November and Will Richardson have been won over by Jots. One more thing for me to explore at a later date.

Making It Social

After looking into social-bookmarking and setting up both Furl and accounts, I started wondering about the social aspect. This type of bookmarking is called social because your bookmarks can be made public to benefit other people, just as you can access the bookmarks of others for your benefit. Social-bookmarking services take all of the entries that are tagged (or keyworded) in the same way, connects them and then connects the people that made the tags. With, it is as easy as typing in, where the final word (in this case, informationliteracy) is your search term. In doing this I came across articles saved by folks I consider to be leaders in this field (that’s you Jennifer and Joanne!) and chose to save a couple of those URLs myself. I also found articles saved by Joanne using the Furl search box. Will Richardson, in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, says “social bookmarking sites complete the circle: RSS lets us read and connect with what others write; now we can read and connect with what they read as well.”

Choosing a Social-Bookmarking Tool

Social Bookmarking Tools (I) A General Review, presents many of the social bookmarking tools and examines the history of social bookmarking. This paper also looks at an emerging new class of tools, like Connotea, that cater more to the academic communities and that store not only user-supplied tags, but also structured citation metadata terms.
Furl is another social-bookmarking site that is free, owned by Looksmart. It has some useful features that does not. Furl saves a snapshot of the entire page, not just a link, which would be helpful for those times when links no longer work! Furl organizes by keywords rather than tags and gives you the added option of building topic folders. Furl gives you several ways to find out what other people are saving. When you click to see your saved page, you can see a list of others who have also saved that page. Then you can click on any of those names to be taken to a page of links saved by that person. While some people might be uncomfortable with this idea, I think it has tremendous potential when is comes to doing research. Think of how much easier it would be to find research articles when you find others who might be researching the same thing! You can access their folders to see if anything there is of interest to you. Furl even allows to you subcribe to a person’s folder by simply clicking on the RSS icon inside the folder and copyping the address that comes up into your Blog Aggregator. I found that Furl was less-user friendly than in the set-up but I like the additional features it has to offer.

My Introduction to Social-Bookmarking

I first heard the term “social-bookmarking” about six months ago. I found a simple informative video by Lee Lefever of the Commoncraft Show, called Social Bookmarking in Plain English which explained that social bookmarking is a new way to bookmark, using a website instead of your browser for storage, organizing your bookmarks with tags and giving you access to the sites that other people tag. With over 15 billion webpages on the internet, this kind of tool sounded appealing just to keep track of all the information I might need or want as I search the web.

I followed the instructions on the CommonCraft Show video and went to to add two buttons to my browser, one being a tag button and the other a shortcut to the website. After finding a website I wanted to save, I simply clicked on the tag button, assigned a couple of tags (keywords or category labels) and hit “Save”. It couldn’t have been simpler.

I found myself wishing I had discovered this tool at the beginning of my courses to organize all those sites I had come across. No longer will I need to copy URL’s and paste them into folders or weed through my Internet Explorer’s list of favourites. Now I can access my favourites from any computer. I quickly began spreading the word and moving the bookmarks on my browser to the website.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Blog 2 Video-Sharing Sites

In researching for this blog entry, I have come to realize the additional educational benefits of creating videos with students and receiving comments on those videos from a global audience. The article on Film School from Edutopia illustrates many educational reasons for creating videos in the school environment.

I can also see using video-sharing sites to encourage students to evaluate videos. Using a variety of videos selected from various sites, students could not only learn to assess validity of content but could also evaluate videos for their artistic merit. In doing this, students could be encouraged to establish a list of criteria to be used in evaluating their own videos.

Marlene Asselin (2005) in her study entitled "Teaching Information Skills in the Information Age: An Examination of Trends in the Middle Grades" found grade 6 and 7 teachers' and teacher-librarians' perspectives suggest a serious need for information literacy instruction to go beyond the basic level of accessing, locating and selecting information, to critically evaluating resources (especially digital and internet resources). With the definition of information literacy expanding to include multiple forms of literacy beyond the printed text, it is important we teach critical literacies when working with students as they use video to access or share information.

I wanted to learn how to post a video on YouTube and was surprised to find it wasn’t difficult at all. I simply signed up, confirmed my email address and selected Upload. From there I was able to select a video from My Pictures on my computer and upload it, giving it a title and comments. My video (chosen from what was readily available) was uploaded with the subject’s permission, of course! What I learned from this trial is how easy it would be to videotape students, or have them create videotapes and upload them (with the required permission) to share with parents, peers or anyone interested in the topic. I know my students would look forward to and benefit from the interaction they could have with their audience. Simple and amazing!

Blog 2 Video-Sharing Sites

Okay, enough about the risks and the potential for misuse with video-sharing sites. USA today provides an excellent overview of different video sharing sites, including YouTube, Vimeo, Sharkle, Clipshack and Google video.

I personally find YouTube to be my favourite of these sites. I am attracted by the volume of videos and by how easy it is to search and select video clips. Although there are many clips I would not want my primary students to stumble upon, I can search and tag the ones that are useful. School Tube and TeacherTube are teacher approved, educational video-sharing sites, providing carefully screened video-sharing. Although the lesson ideas with these sites make them attractive, I find the selection on these sites, especially SchoolTube, is limited.

Here are a couple of clips from YouTube (not on TeacherTube) that I showed my grade ones yesterday (we are just finishing a mini-research unit on groundhogs). This was such an easy way to show my students live groundhogs vs. those in a picture book.

I can imagine using these cell biology clips with older students.

Obviously the choices on YouTube are plentiful. What I like is how easy it is to insert a video clip into any lesson (especially when you have access to an LCD projector attached to a computer) to extend information and appeal to different learning styles. When teachers collaborate and share their video clip files, it all becomes even more convenient and effective.

Although I prefer YouTube for selection when showing videos, I think TeacherTube is onto something with the way you can add supporting comments to your videos. The TeacherTube Blog has many ideas for getting students to interact with the community using video. I also think TeacherTube would be my choice for uploading videos my students create, as I prefer the intended audience.

Image Sharing and the Flip-side of Copyright

Clearly we must also be very aware that anything we upload on the internet in terms of pictures or video has the potential to used by others (albeit illegally) for financial gain. The CBC Editor’s Choice Podcast for January 25th (“That's MY dog on the TV!”), illustrates the flip-side of copyright where Tracey Gaughran-Perez’s photo of her pug, Truman, (not designated public) was used on FOX TV without her permission. Tracey’s husband happened to see the photo on the TV. This makes me think how easily the same thing could happen (likely without my knowledge) to videos I upload to video-sharing sites.