Friday, April 11, 2008

What's next?

Last year, there was no technology in my classroom. The closest any kids came to a computer was one little boy I had take an online colour blindness test on the computer on my desk. Pretty sad considering my self-professed love of technology, but quite simply, I couldn't figure out how to integrate technology into my early childhood classes with just one computer in the room. And honestly, even if I had a couple extra machines, would I have done anything besides load some games? I doubt it.

This class-- the readings, the discussions, and best of all, the blogs-- has inspired me to change all that. I've got an old laptop that will be living in my classroom and it will be our gateway to web 2.0. I'm going to convince our tech guy to let my classroom be the home base for the digital projector, because I'm going to use it... a lot! Here's what I've got planned so far:

-a "what did we do today?" blog composed by students at the end of each day
-videos to go with each letter/sound we learn, similar to this great teacher tube video
-an alphabet voicethread that I will create for students to comment on for each letter/sound
-a group project to create a counting video
-I will invest in a pair of kid's digital cameras to use as a journalism centre (pictures for our blog!)
-those pictures will go to our (password protected) classroom's Picassa account for parents to view and print
-each student will have a voicethread portfolio that will be continuously added to and parents will be able to view (Thanks for the inspiration, Val!)

I'm excited. This course has made technology seem, well, within reach. While I had a working knowledge of most of the web 2.0 tools we looked at coming into the course, I didn't have an appreciation for how flexible and powerful they could be. Blogs were just an annoyance, now they are a way to reflect on my learning and listen to what others are learning. Photo sharing was just for baby pictures, now it's for teacher-parent communication. Video sharing was a way to waste a few hours fooling around, now it's a way to learn about other cultures and showcase student learning. Wikis were for school calendars, now they are for everything!

Several times during this course, I found myself saying "how did I not know about this?"

The most important thing I have learnt in the past three months is that it is very easy to not keep up with what is happening with technology, and more specifically, technology in schools. There are always new ideas, new possibilities, and new tools being developed, and if you keep your head down to long, you are going to miss them. While I've always proudly considered myself to be a lifelong learner, I realize now that that doesn't mean just going to conferences and taking courses. It means keeping up all the time and being willing to take chances with new ideas. For all my time constraints and whining about reading blogs, I'm going to try to keep up with a few. I've subscribed to Wesley Fryer's podcast as well as David Warlick's. And I really am going to make an effort to spread the tech gospel: take my last post about PD, and change each 'would' to 'will.' I'm pretty nervous about it, but if I don't take the chance, who will?

At the start of this course, I was scared. Sure, I knew a bit about the tools we would be looking at, and reading articles about technology in schools was right up my alley, but having to explore a new technology in depth just about each week on top of readings and discussions was overwhelming. I reacted predictably, by being primarily an observer rather than an active participant. I regret that, but then that's the story of my school life. That said, this blog has given me much more confidence to share my thoughts with colleagues. Yes, it's an assignment, but making it available to others in this class, and the world, has encouraged me to think and work harder. Which is exactly why the tools of the read/write web are so powerful for teachers.

If I worked harder, if I thought more critically, then yes, I believe these tools can transform how our students feel about learning. Next September, I get to set that transformation in motion. Excited? You bet!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Professional Development

Blogs and wikis and Youtube oh my! Every week, every new technology, convinced me to feature it for the PD assignment/blog. Each seemed to have so much potential. I could honestly see each different web 2.0 tool making a positive difference in my school, for my students. So which to choose?


Voicethread was the one technology we looked at that I had never heard of and the one I was most excited to try out once I discovered what it was. Voicethread's simplicity, flexibility, and compatibility makes it in some ways the ideal web 2.0 tool. It is accessible to even the youngest students because they can record their thoughts without writing, and yet can be used to create sophisticated products for older students. It is interactive, yet has built in controls for teachers to closely monitor that interactivity and keep students safe.

While I suspect many other teachers will be in the same position I was a few weeks ago, having no idea what a voicethread is, I think once they are introduced to the technology and its features, they too will see how many educational possibilities exist for voicethreads! That leaves it to me to get them started... here's what I'd do.

To start, I'd take Wesley Fryer's advice and "focus on the few teachers in your building who are very enthused about using technology." In his article "Working with reluctant teachers" in June 2005's Technology and Learning, he describes strategies to improve staff development in schools where teachers "believe computer activities are just a waste of time, and students should focus on reading and math." This describes the majority of teachers I work with, but I can think of a few that would be more receptive to trying something new. Once I've provided PD to that core group, enthusiasm should spread.

I would get in touch with those teachers and start an informal discussion of voicethreads, along the lines of "have you seen this new technology? What do you think?" I certainly respond better to professional development when it is tailored to my needs and interests, so I would like to make sure that voicethreads are of interest to my colleagues before I forge ahead. If they aren't? Well then I start publicizing all the great things I'm doing with voicethreads, until I get some interest! This is a take on another piece of Fryer's advice in that same article.

Once I have a small group of interested teachers and an idea of their needs and wants, I would set up an abridged version of Glazer and Page's collaborative apprenticeship. I keep coming back to this model of staff development because it doesn't just dump new knowledge into teachers' brains and run... we know that isn't good enough for our students, why should it be good enough for our teachers? Instead, it works to "advance and sustain" teacher knowledge. In the May 2006 Learning and Leading with Technology they outline the collaborative apprenticeship model in 4 parts: introduction, development, proficiency, and mastery. While Gazer and Page suggest spending at least several weeks in each phase, I would cut this down considerably, since I am focusing on a very narrow slice of web 2.0 technology. Still, I think the framework of collaborative apprenticeship will be useful for teaching teachers about voicethreads.

The first phase, introduction, I would do in a short workshop where I could show a variety of voicethreads all notable for their educative value. I would pull most of my examples from the Voicethreads4Education wiki, encouraging teachers to look through the site during some free time as well. I would do this in a computer lab, using a projector so everyone could easily see what was going on, but also had access to their own computer. Trevor Shaw ("Tech Training and Modeling Effective Teaching, Part 2", MultiMedia & Internet@Schools; Nov/Dec 2004) advises that staff developers take plenty of time to model technology based tools, so I would demonstrate how to search for voicethreads to use in their classes, how to comment on them, and finally, how to get started creating one. Then the fun really begins! I would have us work together to create our very own voicethread to publish. We know that students learn best when they are active participants in their learning, and us grown-ups are no different. Mary Alice Anderson suggests keeping things informal, and encouraging discussion and participation during PD sessions in "Jump-starting staff development", an article in the August 2003 edition of School Library Journal. She also backs up my decision to keep things short, sweet, and frequent, suggesting that "quick classes in small doses may have a higher success rate than formal sessions that last longer."

I would give participants about a week to mull over what they learned about voicethreads, while encouraging them to show voicethreads in their classrooms, maybe even having students make comments. I would also provide teachers with the link to the great web site Digitally Speaking, a wiki created and maintained by Bill Ferriter. It contains a wealth of information for teachers regarding voicethreads (and other web 2.0 technologies, too!) including some fantastic handouts. I would ask teachers to explore the wiki as part of their thinking about voicethreads

The next step is the developmental phase. In this phase, I would work with participants to design a lesson for their classes that has students create a voicethread. I would like to start out with another group session where we discuss possible lessons and begin planning, followed up with one-on-one sessions with each teacher during their prep time. Time is tight for all teachers, and I think teachers would react better if I was able to work with their schedules rather than ask them to add to their own. This would mean, however, finding ways to opening up my own schedule at appropriate times. This is where administrator buy-in would be crucial. I would need not only permission to leave my classroom for these sessions, but depending on the timing, possibly a substitute teacher. I am in the enviable position of having a full time TA next year, but it could still be an issue.

During this phase, I would also like to arrange to be in the classroom when the teacher is teaching their voicethread lesson, if that is what the teacher wants. I would offer to co-teach to provide that teacher with the confidence to implement that first lesson.

In the next phase, proficiency, "teachers become more autonomous in their use of technology" (Glazer & Page, 2006). I would encourage teachers in the group to discuss how they are using the technology with each other informally, but also continue to schedule at least 2 short afternoon sessions for trouble shooting and more formal discussion. I would also stress to teachers that I am available to consult on their lessons, all the while encouraging them to be creative with their voicethread plans.

The final phase gets me really excited about the process: mastery. Here is where that small group of teachers get to showcase what they have learned to others! Fryer recommends publicizing success, and I agree. With a core group of educators successfully integrating voicethreads into their lessons, we should have plenty of good news stories to showcase to parents and other teachers. Once the community sees the positive benefits of using voicethreads for learning, they will begin to ask other teachers to participate as well... and that first group of teachers can begin the collaborative apprenticeship process anew.

Finally, I would evaluate my attempt at staff development. David Jakes (Staff Development 2.0, Technology & Learning; May 2006)summarizes a five-step evaluation program from Thomas Guskey's book Evaluating Professional Development. I would evaluate my program on those five components: participants' reactions, participants' learning, organizational support and change, participants' use of new knowledge, and student learning. I would carefully examine what went well and what I need to improve for next time. And there will be a next time. There are plenty more great web 2.0 tools I want to introduce my colleagues to!

I work in a community that is very resistant to change. Sure, everyone fears change to a degree, but I find the Northern communities I work in particularly resistant to new ideas. In light of this, I need to add that I will persevere. Too often I've seen great ideas booed once and disappear. I pledge to myself and my students that even if voicethreads don't catch on with my first group of teachers, I will keep on trying with another group, and then another, until their value is appreciated. Hopefully that dogged determination to bring better educational technology to Northern students will make an impact.

Part of the reason I chose voicethreads for this topic has to do with that resistance. Voicethreads presents so many obvious educational uses that I hope that the teachers I connect with will be more likely to adopt the technology compared to some of the more controversial web 2.0 tools. Once I have a core group of dedicated voicethread users in the community, I hope to branch out into other tools, particularly blogs and video sharing. I would approach those two subjects in much the same way as I've described for voicethreads. While doing staff development on voicethreads though, I will be using blogs and video sharing (and very likely several other tools!) in my classroom and happily telling anyone who will listen about all the great learning we are doing with these tools. With concrete examples of the technology in use and someone on staff (me!) willing to mentor them, I hope other teachers will be more willing to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I have been dreading this week's topic.

At the beginning of this course, I professed my disdain for blogging. But, I'll admit, some of that disdain was a result of ignorance, so I committed myself to giving the process, and the products of others, a fair shake.

As each week has gone by, I have grown more and more appreciative of the process, that is, learning with blogs. I find blogging to be a particularly useful form of reflective learning for myself. On the other hand, my appreciation for learning from blogs hasn't changed much.

My dread comes from trying to make sense of that peculiar difference. After all, it comes down to "I like writing a blog, but I don't like reading other people's." Ouch. Pretty self-centred. Thankfully, however, that statement isn't entirely accurate. Let my try, and I stress try, to explain.

Here's a quick picture of my personality: scatterbrained, curious, multiple divergent interests, and busy. I have learned the hard way over the years that in order to get anything done in a brain like mine, I need to get focused and work in short, intense bursts. The Internet, as much as I love it, does nothing to help me focus. While it nurtures my diverse interests, it can suck up time like no other distraction I know... time I just don't have to lose. I limit my Internet time out of necessity for myself and my family. Babies just aren't interested in computers (although Kneebouncers does catch her attention) and it's hard to cook supper while watching videos on Youtube!

I have had to come to the conclusion that reading blogs is not a good fit for my personality. I've been using Google Reader to follow Blog of Proximal Development, Dangerously Irrelevant, Webblog-ed, and Moving at the Speed of Creativity. [an aside: Google Reader has made this experience possible... I don't think I could have done it without the wonder of RSS. It is so much more convenient to have the updates delivered to me that checking those blog pages every few days to see what is new, particularly on top of all the blogs for this course.] Each of those blogs contains lots of interesting information, thought-provoking insights, and great links to other material. They are professional and well written. But here's the rub: I don't want to miss a thing! Even if the subject line suggests the post won't be of great pertinence to me, I am compelled to read on. Likewise, I am compelled to follow links, view embedded videos, and read comments. Suddenly it's 11pm and I haven't started researching my next blog post.

Lifelong learning takes commitment and time. While I have the commitment, I don't always have the time. I am a strong believer in balance, and reading blogs as part of my commitment to lifelong learning throws off my balance. Again, I'm not suggesting that blogs are of little professional development value, they just don't fit my life and personality. I have much more success reading journals, listening to podcasts, and taking courses. I find I am better able to make good judgements about the educative value of a journal article, podcast, or course ahead of time to determine if it is 'worth' spending my time on, or is better to leave alone for another time.

While the blogs I chose to follow are generally applicable to my situation (namely, as a student of this course), I still find myself reading them with frustration, wondering when I'm going to find something truly relevant. Still, I'm compelled to read on, just as so many of our students are compelled to keep googling, convinced that they will eventually find the perfect web page.

Whew. Enough negativity. On the plus side of the blogging argument:

What a great tool for reflective learning! During my time at teachers' college, a few fellow students and I would refer to certain instructors as 'reflection Nazis.' Particularly during practicums, it seemed that reflecting took more time than any other task. Looking back, thank goodness they forced it down our throats! I know it has made me a better learner. That said, I quickly dropped the habit of reflecting in writing. But my blogging experience in this class makes me want to start again. The difference is subtle, but important: potential audience. Knowing that others may (or in this case, WILL) read my reflections makes me more rigorous, more thoughtful, and more solutions oriented.

Reading the blogs of other students in this course has likewise been a great learning experience. We have so many ideas to share! Particularly the wiki and voicethread topics seemed to bring fabulous teaching and learning ideas out of us. It was also encouraging to read how other students sometimes struggled to adopt a new technology, but always came out the other side more tech-savvy and confident. I found the blogs made us more of a community than would have happened with just the vista discussion boards-- maybe it was the personal touches we each gave our blog pages? I'm not sure what it was, but I personally always felt more comfortable on the blog pages than I did on the discussion boards.

This brings me to an interesting article I found on Proquest called Blogs: Ending isolation, from the September 2006 edition of Principal Leadership, by Cynthia Mata Aguilar. The article focuses on a small group of teachers from rural schools in the Southern USA participating in professional development to improve literacy at their schools. The teachers needed a way to communicate across a distance, and so started blogging. Like me, those teachers found that blogging helped them to learn, but also to connect with other learners.

My experience in this course, and that article, makes me believe that blogging can be a great professional development tool, both for reflecting on learning and communicating with other learners. The format encourages more thorough writing than you might find on a discussion board or social network page, but still allows comments and even collaboration (blogs with multiple authors). I mentioned how I thought collaborative apprenticeship groups could benefit from social networks in a previous post, but blogging might also be the ticket-- it has certainly done the job here.

There. I did it. Hopefully I managed to express in this, another long-winded post, how while I`m sure blogs are a treasure trove of PD for some teachers and librarians, I`m going to stick to old fashioned magazines, courses, and face-to-face encounters for my PD, if only to save my sanity.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A note on PD

Having explored Ning a bit more, I think it would be a better forum for PD conversations, and could provide some solutions to the time demands placed on educators engaged in collaborative apprenticeship (Glazer & Page, 2006). While I still think face-to-face would be best, it isn't always possible: here we all are learning at a distance! Social networks built on the Ning platform do seem to encourage more of a conversation than what I've seen on wikis and bulletin boards. In fact, I wonder if it might be more conducive to conversations in courses like this than the vista discussion forum? It is certainly more visual and easier to track than clicking on messages and following 'threads.' I always seem to get lost in the formality of that system. There could be security and privacy issues though, although Ning seems to have taken great care to address those concerns.

I'll be watching this web2.0 technology with interest to see if it is adopted by more professionals as a way to engage in long distance learning conversations.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

One more Ning thing

Just spotted this on Yahoo: musicians are building their own social networks to exist alongside the biggies (Facebook, MySpace...) on platforms such as Ning, so that they have better control over content, advertisers, and user data. So if musicians can do it, why can't librarians?

The good and the bad

"Social networking technologies give teens the chance to practice reading and writing literacy skills in real and meaningful ways. When teens use social networking they aren't just writing and reading for out-of-context classroom experiences, they are writing and reading in in-context experiences that have something to do with their real lives. Is there a better way to learn how to get ideas out there and find out what others are saying about the world in which we all live?"
--Linda Braun, YALSA, from here

I really like this quote. I have been thinking a lot about the usefulness of social networking tools in schools since the beginning of this course. Social networking sites are the only web 2.0 tools blocked on the school computers here. The news is full of teens bullying and being bullied with these sites. There is controversy about them being used for cheating. I was beginning to think sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo had no use in the classroom or library. After all, what can they do that blogs, wikis, and photo/video sharing sites can't? The quote above refers to all social networking (web2.0) tools, but I think it is particularly apt to sites like Facebook. Our teenage students are communicating through these sites: the Ashley Jones reports in the March 2008 edition of EContent that 55% of online teens have a social networking profile, and the number is climbing rapidly. To be honest, I'm surprised the number is that low.

So if we can't beat 'em, join 'em? As teachers and librarians, why not establish a presence on these sites and encourage our students to use them for good? There are Facebook groups dedicated to good causes that students could explore and participate in, or they could create their own to champion a local cause. Librarians could use Facebook groups to teach critical thinking and other information literacy skills as students navigate them looking for opinions on current events and issues. The sites are ready made for collaboration and could be an alternative for students trying to coordinate group work (though I'm convinced wikis or blogs would be better suited here). The incident at Ryerson is a great jumping off point for a discussion on academic honesty, abuse of technology, and the nature of collaboration. And, if monitored by teachers, I think these sites are a great way for students to study together, discuss school work and solve problems collaboratively.

The big 'but' is cyber bullying. The tragic case of Megan Meier may be an extreme, but it demonstrates just how destructive online bullying can be. Bullies feel emboldened by their sense of anonymity, and indeed, often targets don't know the identity of their tormentor. The Carol Brydolf's article in the October 2007 Education Digest Minding MySpace: Balancing the benefits and risks of students' online social networks describes a bullying situation at a school in California and how the school dealt with it. The school principal "decided that his devotion to free speech had to take a back seat to his responsibility as a school administrator." The student responsible for the bullying pulled his nasty post off Myspace and was suspended. The school then used the incident as a spring board for discussion. This is a tricky balance. We want to keep our students safe, but we want to encourage them to express themselves as well. So is the solution banning the sites outright, to save teachers, administrators, and librarians the trouble of striking that balance?
Keeping social networking sites of off school computers doesn't keep students from the sites. Sure, not all students will have access to them at home, but most will. So the bullying will still happen, but school staff won't know about it. Ignorance of a problem doesn't make it easier to solve. If, rather, we embrace these sites, use them, encourage students to push the potential of the sites, we can keep an eye on what is happening and address concerns right away. By being a part of our students' MySpace or Facebook or Bebo experience, we can help them learn how to stay safe and participate appropriately: skills they need on the Internet, and in life.

Another California school district in the Minding MySpace article takes an approach I'd like to see in more schools. Rather than hide from technology, they embrace it by providing every student in grade 6 and up with their own email address, web page, and access to discussion groups, and monitor them, rather than censor them. The district works hard to educate students on how to stay safe, and educate teachers and parents on how to monitor what kids are doing.

Stephen Abram, in the January/February 2007 edition of Multimedia and Internet@Schools, writes my new favourite analogy on this topic: banning social networking sites to keep students safe "is like teaching traffic safety to kindergarteners by banning roads." The problems with social networking sites are another opportunity for educators to bring current, relevant issues into the classroom for discussion, communication, and learning. We have a responsibility to prepare students for the real world, not a perfect world.

I was just about to end this blog when I found this comment on the Ning in Education site. Ning is a place to create your own social network, which could take care of some privacy and safety issues for schools. Basically, she argues that Ning, and social networks in general, are more like a conversation that a wiki can ever be, which may be more appealing to many people, particularly those most social of beings, teens. Something else I thought of was that students might be less intimidated commenting on a social network than on a wiki, since it is more of a conversation that the altering of a web page, although the way we ran our discussions on the wikis worked well enough for us grown ups.

Social Networking: Friend or Foe?

I've been on Facebook for about 8 months now. I joined up at the behest of my brother, since he said it was a great way to share pictures, something very important with a brand new baby around! Up until then, I had been reluctant to jump on the social networking bandwagon. It seemed, well, phony. I had heard about friend collecting, the practice to building a huge collection of friends for status, and it made me think the whole social networking movement was just a way to continue the social strife of high school forever. Yuck. But, for the sake of baby pictures, I decided to give it a try.

As a picture sharing site, I loved it! Uploads are quick and easy, you can tag people in your photos, you can add a caption to your photos, and people can comment on them. It isn't as full-service as the photo sharing sites we explored earlier, but it certainly got the job done for my pictures.
A couple of months ago, an item popped up in my news feed: I had been tagged in someone else's photo. Huh? I followed the link, and there I was, dancing the night away at a club in Korea, 6 years ago. There was an option for me to remove the tag, but as someone who doesn't visit my facebook page very often, how long had that picture been there without me knowing it? I just looked a bit silly so I didn't mind the picture. But in our time of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, it would be very easy to snap an inappropriate photo, tag it, and upload it, to someone else's embarrassment or worse. Or what's stopping a cyberbully from mistagging photos with a target's name?

As a social networking site, I also enjoyed it. I found some friends from high school that I had long since lost touch with, and had fun catching up with them. It has also helped my husband find some old friends: for two nomads like us, this kind of site could really go a long way to keeping us in touch with far-flung friends!
After the initial catching-up, those friends from high school are silent images on my facebook page. While now I can get in touch with them whenever I want to, using facebook doesn't make non-social people more social.

Facebook has some fun features, likes sending 'gifts' to your friends (I like to send hatching eggs and Tim Horton's treats), and games to play.
You could play a real game with a real person and have a genuine interaction with them. I also find these activities to be real time suckers. They are often not designed all that well and confusing to navigate, so while I want to save more square feet of rain forest with my Green Patch, eventually I say to myself "this is a waste of time! I have REAL things to do!" But there is always one more button to click, one more thing to check out... and one more advertisement to load on your screen. I have friends on Facebook that, by the updates I see in my news feed, must spend hours on the site, playing games, chatting via the wall posts and messages, and posting on discussion boards.

As you can see, social networking leaves me conflicted. Frankly, I'm a fan of real life. I think it is really important to spend time with the people around you, interacting in genuine ways. I would much rather take my daughter for a toboggan ride than post on someone's wall.
I'm not a teenager, and I've never been much of a social butterfly. Students are using this web2.0 tool to stay connected with each other, just like we used land line phones in the olden days. So what's wrong with that? Well, cyber-bullying, false senses of security/anonymity, wasted time, diminished human contact.

But what about better communication skills? And increased information literacy? And engaged learners? And collaboration?

Social networking is a double-edged sword, a very sharp one.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm keep getting more impressed...

As I said in my last post, I think voicethreads could be of tremendous use in schools. But then I watched this voicethread, and now I KNOW it will be of use! They have really worked hard to make it safe for students and useful for educators. I think the designers of voicethreads knew they had a great educational product and wanted to make sure it was well-used, and not feared like so many other web2.0 tools (youtube, facebook, even wikis). In case you missed it, here's a link to a voicethread all about it.

I went ahead and signed up for my free educator pro account and got started! It really was easy, the hardest part of making my voicethread was waiting for my pictures to upload. I decided to make an interactive alphabet. Time and 'stuff' constraints limited me to just 4 letters for now, but I love how it turned out, so I'll be adding to it until it's complete! I took pictures of items that started with a particular letter sound and narrated the picture. Students could comment by telling what they see in the picture, or by telling about other things they know start with that sound. Teachers could also assign each student a different letter to make a picture for and have them narrate their picture for a class collaborative voicethread! Here is a link to my voicethread, since embedding doesn't want to work for me.

I haven't had much luck finding information about voicetheads or multimedia sharing site in journals, so I put on my critical thinking hat and hit the web. I found this blog post by Wesley Fryer, where he describes best practices for voicthreads: they should be safe, feature multiple voices, be open for comments, and welcome interaction. While my initial reaction to this was "shouldn't everything we do in schools meet those criteria?" I quickly realized that a lot of it doesn't. A lot of what goes on in schools, while safe, showcases only one voice, is never commented on by anyone other than the teacher, and stops at the classroom door. Web 2.0 tools might be intimidating to teachers because they try to push our teaching past those safe boundaries with which we are familiar. But won't all learning benefit if we apply those 4 best practices to voicethreads... and book reports, and math projects, and... well, everything?

Brenda Dyck blogged on EducationWorld about voicethreads, and mentioned that they "give teachers a bird’s eye view into the thinking of their students, especially students who have difficulty communicating their learning through writing." Voicethreads could be a very powerful addition to student portfolios, as teachers could upload samples of student work, and that student could tell why this is great work, why she's proud of it, etc, questions we often ask our students about portfolio pieces but that are paraphrased by an adult's hand at the early childhood level. This let's kids speak for themselves!

She linked to this wiki (that has Wesley Fryer involved) that features voicethread book reports. What a great library use! TL's could use voicethreads for book talks, and encourage students to add their own thoughts about the featured books, in addition to creating their own book talks. Here's another handy use of this technology for TL's: a voicethread tour of the library!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The ultimate web2.0 tool?

To be honest, I haven't even gone back to Jumpcut to see if I can salvage my experience there. From what I understand from my short visit, you put together video clips to make your own video... clips of your own, or from other people's videos. Um, copyright issues anyone? That could be a good jump off for a discussion on intellectual property rights with students, but I think that's a discussion that could start from just about any of the web2.0 tools we are studying. Now, I'm a bit shaky on video making, but doesn't Windows Movie Maker let you import and rearrange clips? So why do we need Jumpcut? I'll let someone else answer that question. It's not for me.

But voicethread... now that is cool! I have had so much fun browsing through this site, and have been really impressed with some of the student created voicethreads. A voicethread is like a wiki crossed with a podcast crossed with Flickr or YouTube. There are so many possibilities out there for this technology! This great wiki showcases a good variety of voicethreads being used by students and teachers. A teacher at Usher Collegiate in Regina uses voicethreads to publish his students' artwork, an administrator made a presentation on a grant proposal and asked for feedback from other administrators, and kindergarten students tell about pictures they made to illustrate animal habitats!

I think voicethreads could be very useful in the classroom for a wide variety of activities because of how well it caters to visual and auditory learners. Voicethreads have great potential for story telling (how about an activity where one student starts telling a story about a picture, then the next student continues it, and so on?) and for otherwise encouraging oral language skills. I could see so many uses for this in early childhood. Young students can explain what they have painted or drawn, or could read words that they have written, and it's captured for parents to view and for teachers to assess. Other students can describe what they see in an artwork, flexing those oral language muscles in a meaningful way and exploring how their thoughts may be different from the thoughts of others.

In higher grades, students could use this as a multimedia presentation method that allows their peers to make suggestions and comments that will be audible to people who view the voicethread later, inspiring students to do their best work. Of course, that work could be published to a wider audience and generate comments from outside the classroom: even more incentive to do a great job!

Students could use this tool to collaborate on visual matters like designing a school mascot, and teachers could use it to create interactive classroom newsletters... imagine being able to ask parents in your newsletter if they could volunteer for a field trip, and have them answer you on a voicethread! Ok, that's kind of the same as a wiki newsletter, but I think hearing someone's voice can be more powerful that reading a newsletter. So it would be like a podcast newsletter, but interactive: impossible for podcasts.

Up next: what the web world has to say about voicethreads... no luck on the journal front so far!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Scary stuff!

Well, I just visited Jumpcut for the first time, and I will tell you right now: I would never allow students to browse the videos there. As I was clicking through the recently popular videos, one was deeply disturbing: scenes of self-mutilation and drug use, and who knows what came after I stopped it. There were no indications that what I was about to see might be inappropriate for some audiences, no descriptions listed, and the tags visible without scrolling down gave no indication either. Scrolling down in shock, some more tags listed "horror" and "addiction:" now I know to check.

I will go back and explore this site a bit more, but to be frank, Jumpcut will have to have some pretty amazing tools for me to get over this unfortunate experience. And even if the tools are useful, I would be very hesitant to use them in a school setting: this site is NOT student safe.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Wikis were my very first foray into web2.0 tools. I learned a bit about them in my inquiry-based learning class last semester, and immediately bought in! It seemed like the perfect tool for educators: easy to use, collaborative, free, secure... I couldn't wait to give it a try!

I showed my husband the video Wikis in Plain English, and he was quickly convinced that this technology should have a place in his school. We decided a good place to start was the school calendar. This was early November, and already the Tribal Council had sent out 3 amended copies of activity calendars, each a different colour, each several pages, and enough copies for every teacher in the Council. What a waste of paper and time! Plus, teachers had to make sure they were checking the right copy for upcoming events: "which colour are we on now?" they'd ask Jim. Also, some teachers rarely checked their mailboxes, and were missing important information about sudden calendar changes... a fact of life here.

We got to work. I showed the admin assistant and the technology coordinator Wikis in plain English, and together we set up a wiki at wikispaces. I showed them how to edit and save pages and how easy to was to put up new information. The admin assistant loved the idea of having the calendar on a web page, saving her the trouble of printing it off and filing it into mailboxes each time an update was made. The trouble began when I suggested we allow all staff to edit the wiki. I thought this would allow staff to keep each other up-to-date on activities that might not warrant inclusion on an official calendar, but would nevertheless effect other staff. After all, the plan was to already include things like scheduled staff absences, so why not?

Wikis need trust. According to the Educause Learning Initiative's Seven things you should know about wikis, "because users can modify the content of a wiki (add to, edit, delete materials), allowing such manipulation of the sites information carries some risks." If an organization has a low tolerance for that risk, a wiki won't work. The lack of trust among the staff at the school here means that only a few people are allowed to modify the wiki. Which is too bad for a couple of reasons: I think users that are allowed full privileges to the wiki are more likely to buy into the technology and adopt it for their own uses, and, well, when the admin assistant got tired of updating the wiki, someone else could have taken over.

Jennifer commented on my last post about how the really daunting part of Virtual Libraries isn't setting them up, but keeping them up to date. This is the same with a wiki. Someone has to be willing to take responsibility for keeping it up to date and checking for inappropriate manipulation of the site. When I asked the admin assistant what the trouble was, she expressed that she just didn't have the time to keep the wiki up to date. As I mentioned earlier, updating the wiki is quicker than typing up memos, printing them, and distributing them, so I suspect "not having the time" is code for "I don't have the time to learn the finer points of this new technology."

Educause states that "wikis permit asynchronous communication and group collaboration across the Internet." To me, that translates into a tremendously powerful tool for remote communities, but also for 'ordinary' communities as well. Students can now work together on projects without trying to coordinate meeting times, phone calls, or emails. High school students from Buffalo Narrows can collaborate with students from Loon Lake on research projects, or grade 1 students from Waterhen Lake can collaborate with grade 1 students in Clearwater River to build a Cree alphabet book. According to Del Siegel in his Winter 2008 Gifted Child Today article Working With Wikis "Innovative educators are drawn to wikis because wikis can facilitate and record students' collaborative work." Having a record of collaboration can assist educators in assessment, but also reveal insights in thinking that might have otherwise been missed by students and teachers. Later in that same article, Siegel lists a tremendous array of possible activities students could use a wiki for, ranging from creating simple pages that present personal information to the class, to allowing students to edit each other's writing.

So this is a perfect technology right? Well, if only. Many of the problems with wikis can be summed up by looking at the most famous wiki of them all: Wikipedia. I remember when I first heard about Wikipedia and immediately dismissing it. Anyone can add to it or edit it? So if I decide the holocaust never happened, I can go and change the holocaust page to reflect that view? Or if I'm feeling bored and mischievous I could go and delete every reference to dogs? Or if I really believed that snow would burn if you tried to melt it too quick, I could create an article to do with just that? Silliness. According to William Badke (online, Mar/Apr 2008), "Wikipedia marches on like a great beast, growing larger and more commanding every day." And yes, I consult it regularly.

We know our students are using it as a resource, so we need to help them judge what they read in Wikipedia articles for currency, accuracy, and bias, much like we help them judge other sources. As there is no official watch dog checking Wikipedia, this is especially important. Badke suggest "a professor or information literacy instructor assigns groups of students to evaluate and edit Wikipedia articles, using research from other sources as an evaluative tool."

When I was reading Penuel's article Implementation and effect of one-to-one computing initiatives: A research synthesis, from the Spring 2006 edition of Journal of Research on Technology in Education for assignment 2, I can across some interesting findings related to professional development. When implementing 1:1 laptop programs, "informal help form colleagues within the school... [was] especially important to ensuring implementation success." If informal help from colleagues is such a powerful mode of professional development, maybe wikis are just the way to facilitate that! What if a district set up a wiki for each grade or subject area, and teachers within that grade/subject area could post questions, thoughts, and ideas there for others to view and comment on?

I did some looking on the Internet and found a few professional development wikis out there:
a best practices for libraries sites
an arts education site for Saskatchewan teachers
David Jakes talks about PD
a high school posts tech support for teachers

Are there concerns? Sure. At the Library Success wiki, users now need to use email confirmation to edit the page because of vandals. Siegle suggests that some students may not feel comfortable putting there work in a forum for all to see. Educause reminds us that wikis represent "the collective perspective of the group that uses it," so again, we need to help our students carefully consider the validity of any information they find on a wiki. Still, I think this is a tool teachers and librarians should seriously consider adding to their arsenals.

I built my first wiki at wikispaces, and for assignment 2, used pbwiki. While both were easy to use, I prefer pbwiki. I found it to be easier to navigate in and a bit more intuitive overall. I also liked having templates within which to put my content, while still having the flexibility to do just about whatever I'd like! Both sites are free for educators, but pbwiki is ad-free... something I greatly appreciate. In the interests of curiosity, the next time I build a wiki, I will use wetpaint, just to see if I like it any better! And when will I build my next wiki? I am going to use a wiki as a class webpage next year, but hopefully I'll get a chance before then to keep experimenting in this exciting technology!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Virtual(ly) Learning

As a distance education student, the virtual library is near and dear to my heart. As much as I enjoy the tactile experience to holding a journal or book, unless I know what I need well in advance, it doesn't happen up here, so having virtual access to learning resources is invaluable. The University of Alberta's Libraries page is one of my most visited websites. Sure, it is a place to start looking for journal articles and books I might order, but it is much more than that: I appreciate all of the extras that are there! While I've never used the service, knowing that I can contact a real, living, breathing librarian by phone, email, or chat is reassuring. I know I can go there to figure out how to cite my sources rather than googling APA format (don't even bother. It's a disaster.). By focusing on the library's Education page, I have access to all kinds of helpful resources in one place, specifically designed for my needs as an educator.

I love Google. I love being able to put in some simple search terms at the top of my web browser and get back some reasonable results. But lets face it: Google has some pretty significant limits, as anyone doing any kind of research past "peanut butter cookie recipes" will know. So where can a searcher go to find relevant information? Virtual Libraries. Joyce Valenza, in her article The Virtual Library in the December 2005 edition of Educational Leadership, defines these as "multipage online resources devoted to the needs of their specific learning communities." Later on in the same article, she praises one virtual library for providing "a clear launching pad for research, media use, and leisure reading." Valenza later comments that students themselves recognize the advantages of the databases over commercial search engines.

Hmmm. A launching pad. I like that metaphor to describe libraries, particularly school libraries. It applies particularly well to the school libraries of today, where students will very likely use resources for their learning that is not physically in the library.

Audrey Church states in her Nov/Dec 2006 article Your library goes virtual: Promoting reading and supporting research in Library Media Connection that our kids today "prefer the Internet to traditional libraries because they consider the Internet to be easier to use, more convenient, open 24/7 and full of more up-to-date material." If this is the case, she argues, don't we have a responsibility as librarians to provide them with the resources they need online? I certainly agree. While we might hope that students will visit our physical libraries and ask questions directed at actual people, schools need to help students learn however they can. I think that with an effective, efficient virtual presence, librarians can actually encourage students to come into the real library!

Church lists a wide variety of suggested ways to promote reading and support research in her article, such as book blogs, links to reading lists, subscription databases, and information literacy skill help. I visited several virtual school libraries, and saw these and other practices in action.

Over at Valenza's virtual school library, the home page made me giggle, but also feel quite comfortable. It's nice to look at, but more importantly, easy to navigate and decidedly un-intimidating. After all, if students want to use the Internet because it's easier to use, shouldn't we make sure our virtual library offerings fit that ideal?

The Latimer Road virtual library was another site I really liked. While less visual that Valenza's site, the layout is easy to follow, and the sidebar is full of great information about research. The Latimer Road library recognizes that our students will be doing a lot of their work from home and need not just access to information, but ongoing help understanding, organizing, and using that information. The online help provided by virtual libraries in this regard could go a long way in helping students produce quality work at home, far from a teacher or librarian to show them a better way to organize their notes.

The SAS virtual libraries, divided according to grade level, provided access to plenty of good links and databases, some had book blogs and all had access to the library catalogue. I am quite curious to see what is in the library handbook, and I hope it has research guidelines, because information to that end is missing on these virtual library sites.

The M.E. LaZerte virtual library, while visually sparse, is chock full of great resources for students. The extensive lists of resources available for specific assignments is fantastic, and truly a launch pad for student work. This would definitely be my first stop as a student completing an assignment.

As our world becomes increasingly digitized, I suspect our students will be less and less inclined to use print resources for the completion of assignments. While teacher librarians are working hard to change how students, parents, and teachers view libraries, I think most still see them as places full of bookshelves... and little else. I think creating a virtual mirror of our libraries therefore serves two purposes: providing helpful, relevant, and appropriate resources to students, and frankly, changing our image. As communities begin to see the library's presence online, they may be more likely to come on in and see all that we have to offer.

While some might argue that by making all these resources available online, students will be even less likely to use the physical library, and by extension the expertise of a librarian, I think the digital environment provides us with a unique opportunity to reach out to students and the community at large. As Church puts it, a virtual library "provides you a space and an opportunity to inform, guide and instruct. It can be an advocacy tool, a visibility tool, and a public relations tool." In a way, these web presences are a way of saying 'hey, look at all the great stuff we can do for you! Come on in!'

As I was looking at various virtual school libraries, I was thinking "gee, these are great, but I don't think I could ever make one!" However, the Valenza article I mentioned earlier contains a wealth of information on how to create a virtual library, as well as a sizable list of resources for doing just that. Along with the suggestions from the Church article, the whole process seems, well, at least a bit less daunting! While I'm confident now that I could set something like this up, I have to admit that I'm still glad I don't have to this week!

Digital memory lane

I got a little thrill when looking at the weblinks for this week's blog assignment. Singapore American School! I was a student at SAS for 4 years, from 1991-1995. While this isn't exactly related to digital libraries, I'd like to tell you a bit about my experiences with the physical library there.

First off, the school was located in a different set of buildings when I went there, but they were no less impressive than the current buildings to a kid from Red Deer. I remember thinking "this library is bigger than my whole school!" the first time I went into the elementary/middle school library. But it wasn't a library. No one called it that. It was the media center. And there weren't just books. There were newspapers! Magazines! A full edition of the Oxford English Dictionary! Encyclopedias that weren't ancient! As a young bookworm, this place was paradise. Looking back with the knowledge I have now, my school in Red Deer had a pretty good library-- certainly better than any of the schools I've worked in as a teacher. But what SAS had was incredible.

Then there was the high school library. Again, paradise. This was a two storey stand alone building on the campus, tremendous collections as far as I was concerned, plenty of space for studying, reading, and working on computers (though at the time, the Internet was very closely controlled by the government and not available on library computers).

Teachers used the library in ways I wasn't used to, either. It wasn't just a place to exchange books once a week or gather materials for research, it was more of a place to learn about learning. Our teachers team-taught with the media specialist on topics related to research: finding, analyzing, and using information. While this may be standard in many schools now, it was new to me as a student. I liked it.

What I liked best though was the accessibility of the libraries, and I see this is something that SAS has continued. They were open after school for awhile, and even had hours during the summer. The whole school community (parents, siblings...) was welcome and you'd often see someone's mother reading in the high school library. Both libraries were welcoming places, and the staff were welcoming people. I had a grade 8 teacher challenge me to find the origin and context of a different quote each day after school, and I still remember the help I got from the media specialist until I had mastered Bartlett's Quotations.

If I really think about it, I would say it was the time I spent learning in those two libraries that caught my interest in libraries. Before that, I was certainly interested in books, but I didn't really know how much more a library could be other than stacks of books to browse.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A few more thoughts

Wait a minute. All I've done is add an audio component to my blog and called it a podcast. That's not the point!

In reading Building a better podcast by Matt Villano in this January's T.H.E. journal, I realized I fell into one of the most common traps of poor podcasting: just sitting in front of a microphone and rambling on about a random subject. Villano argues that organization is key to podcasts, and students making them need to think carefully about their audience, theme, and talking points. Then they need to practice. And me? Well, I think I was so skeptical I could actually get the technology to work, that I didn't really prepare at all!

Villano has a lot of great suggestions for improving the quality of student podcasts, but I want to focus on what he says about consistency. He quotes Bob Sprankle, a technology integrator in Maine: "One podcast is neat and fun, a unique diversion. Do a bunch of podcasts and it becomes something the students look forward to." Villano suggests weaving podcasts into the curriculum by committing to producing a certain number over the school year, and I would agree. Part of the power of podcasting is their syndication. Teachers benefit from subscribing to podcasts that fit their subject or grade level, so why not contribute something regularly to that pool of resources?

In a way then, none of us are really podcasting, no matter how great our subject is, or how well we prepared. To truly get a taste for podcasting, we'd have to do it like we do our blogs, on a regular basis. Maybe in future sections of this course, that could be an option: podcasting rather than blogging.

One final note. I think listening to podcasts could be a great lesson in the critical evaluation of sources. There's a lot out there, and some of it is bound to be questionable... teacher librarians could craft lessons in fact/opinion, author credibility, and information validity with podcasts.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

podcasting success for all!

According to Wikipedia, a podcast "is a collection of digital media files which is distributed over the Internet, often using syndication feeds, for playback on portable media players and personal computers. " And here I thought it was just a radio show you could listen to anytime online. I had a lot to learn for this topic!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am amazed at the quantity (and quality!) of podcasts available out on the web. I knew this was a rising technology, but really, I had no idea. I found browsing the podcasts at iTunes, the Education Podcast Network and the RECAP directory to be a bit like walking into a huge bookstore after a few solid months in the bush: exciting and bewildering, full of giddy anticipation, but also overwhelming. Where to begin? There is so much to explore! Time is precious, how will I spend it? Luckily, podcasts are free, so the spending of money, such a concern in a bookstore, isn't a worry!

This is the first of the web 2.0 technologies we've explored that I think will really impact my personal life, not just my professional life (although social networking has already had an impact... but more on that in a few weeks!). The most difficult adjustment I have had to make to being a mother has been lost reading time. Babies don't like it when mom is reading and not playing! I tried audio books downloaded to my iPod, but I find I still need long stretches of time to enjoy them... and long stretches of time I don't have. But podcasts-- short, informative, entertaining, educational, free-- could be just the ticket.

But enough about me. What about schools? I particularly like what the Educause Learning Initiative had to say about podcasting in the article 7 things you should know about... podcasting. “Because students are already familiar with the underlying technology, podcasting broadens educational options in a nonthreatening and easily accessible manner.” Downloading mp3 files onto a computer has been a staple of young people for several years now. Of the students here I surveyed informally, about 80% of those that say they use the web on a regular basis are listening to and downloading music-- right down the grade 4. So kids know this stuff already... it isn't a stretch for educators to suggest they listen to something on their mp3 players other than music.

Beyond what teachers and librarians could suggest to students to listen to on their own time, podcasts could play an exciting role in the classroom. Teachers could play relevant podcasts right through the classroom computer's speakers (no need for a digital projector here!) or through external speakers attached to an mp3 player. I have a set of speakers for my iPod I picked up for $15, and while not great quality, they get the job done.

According to Kelly Gatewood's article Podcasting: Just the basics, in the Winter 2008 Kappa Delta Pi Record, podcasts “can be used to introduce new material, support current lessons, or review material covered in class.” But those are just the curricular uses. She goes on to suggest how powerful podcasts could be for professional development, allowing teachers to access content “now available anytime, anywhere,” as well as act as an effective teacher-parent communication system.

But my favourite potential use of this medium is what Gatewood describes as “custom information sharing.” This is where the recorded lectures and lab directions for high school and college students fall, but also where we find student created podcasts. Larry Anderson profiled a seventh grade class for his article Podcasting: Transforming middle schoolers into 'middle scholars' in T.H.E. Journal way back in December 2005. Their teacher, Jeanne Halderson, guides her students through the process of creating podcasts to be made available to a global audience in iTunes. “Students become thorough researchers, then report their findings in a recorded audio format rather than merely as a written report.” While I was initially unsure if there was any benefit to a podcast instead of a report other than (the very valid) appealing to auditory learners, in reading the comments of Halderson's students, I realized that the power of student created podcasts is the authenticity of the audience. Students were more motivated to do quality work because they knew that other people could use their podcast to learn about the topic they studied. Students explained that they were motivated to do better because they were having more fun, they were competing with other podcasts for an audience, and they felt their voices could be heard.

When I was browsing on iTunes, I came across a great podcast by some first grade students about ants. It got me thinking: why not have students 'trade' learning? One first grade class studies ants and another one studies butterflies, and they swap podcasts to share their learning? Not only are the students creating the podcast becoming experts in their area, but there is something very satisfying to little kids in learning from their peers. This kind of activity could be arranged within a single classroom (small groups creating podcasts), within a school, a district... or the world at large. Podcasts could be a powerful tool for collaboration within classrooms and stretch how teachers and librarians think about students collaborating at great distances, learning from each other.

Ok, now for a bit on the technological challenges this week. Yikes.

I started out at Poducate Me, and while I thought they had lots of great information about how to use podcasting, when it got down to the technical details, I knew I'd have to look elsewhere. Sorry, but I'm not going to go and buy an omnidirectional condenser mic, a mixer, and soundproof my office (aka, the playroom). I needed something a bit more practical. I turned to LearningInHand (found with!) for help, and found plenty! I found this website to be full of helpful information, particularly for creating podcasts. It gets into the technical side of things at an easy to understand level, and also discusses practical considerations for teacher to keep in mind when having students create podcasts.

After reading the directions at LearningInHand, I set off to make my own recording. I used Audacity at their recommendation, and found it reasonably easy to use, although I couldn't figure out how to add audio to the middle of my recording, when I thought of something to add afterwards. On the subject of software, I'd really like to play around with Tool Factory Podcasting some day. Sally Finley wrote up this software and hardware package for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools in Nov/Dec 2007 and it sounds like an amazing (if pricey) resource for teachers. Audacity is easy for an adult to use, but I'm not sure how friendly it would be for young students, and Finley highly recommends this software for teachers of all grade levels, suggesting it is very user friendly.

I used to save my podcast on the web and embedded it fairly easily into my blog... to my surprise! I think I had built this up to be much more difficult that it really is. Once again, web2.0 technologies have proven to be useful, accessible, and yes, even a little bit fun!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some professional development podcasts to go listen to while I feed Sophie!

I think I can, I think I can!

Alright, I think I've done it... Fingers crossed!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I listen to CBC Radio1 a lot. After all, it's usually that or radio bingo, since we don't get much reception up here. Quite often, I'll catch the end of an interesting inverview, or miss a show I had really wanted to hear, and I'll say, "oh, I'll just get the podcast."

I never have.

Yes, the intimidation factor kept me from making the leap. So when I started to explore podcasting, I took the opportunity to see what I've been missing over at the CBC. Wow! It's all there! I'll never miss Sounds Like Canada again!

Beyond the CBC, however, I was absolutely astounded by the quantity of podcasts out there. So far, I've just been exploring through iTunes, and my poor old computer is burning up under the weight of all the downlaoding I'm doing right now.

This is amazing.

More to come once I've had a chance to listen to some of this stuff!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Better than a pathfinder?

Initially, I wasn't sure what social bookmarking could offer students and teacher/librarians that a pathfinder couldn't.

Sure, students can add websites they discover and find relevant, and this could provide a motivating sense of ownership, but can't students simly suggest those sites to their instructor for addition?

In a school setting, doesn't social bookmarking become overwhelming? Isn't it our responsibility as educators to help students find information in a timely, organised fashion, rather than rely on folksonomies that lack a controlled vocabulary?

Melissa Rethlefsen argues in favour of sites like In her September 2007 article in Library Journal, Tags Help Make Libraries, she lists several points that make good sense. Ultimately, she argues that social bookmarking is a kind of middle ground between pathfinders and Google: enough structure to get students well on their way, and enough freedom to discover new resources all on their own.

That's something I can get behind!

She also argues that social bookmarking and tagging of library resources make patrons (students) more likely to participate in the life of the library, which in turn gives teacher-librarians more of an opportunity to guide learners towards information literacy. Everyone wins.

At the end of her article, Rethlefsen mentions how useful social bookmarking can be for professional development, a sentiment echoed in Jake's 2007 article in Technology & Learning, Professional Development and Web 2.0. I am particularly interested in setting up RSS feeds for promising tags to keep up with developments in early literacy and math education, and I have already added some key thinkers in that area to my network so I can eavesdrop on the websites they are looking at to stay current!

Another option for teachers

In my continued exploration of social bookmarking, I found Forbes' October 2004 article Using Web-based bookmarks in K-8 settings: Linking the Internet to instruction, in The Reading Teacher.

Forbes describes using what I see as the progenitor of social bookmarking: web-based bookmarks. Rather than having access to other people's bookmarks and searching through them through tagging, she demonstrates the use of iKeepBookmarks as an online favourites folder. This easy to navigate service could be a better alternative to social bookmarking for teachers of young students who are using teacher-selected web pages rather than searching for their own information sources, however, older students can contribute links to the service just as they would to a class network on

While tagging links and sharing them with others has great potential for young researches, the expereince is dependent upon a fairly sophisticated set of literacy skills. Web-based bookmarking is much more narrowly focused, allowing very young students or special needs students with limited reading and writing skills to experience navigating the internet. Forbes describes an activity she designed for a kindergarten class in which students navigate to two different websites to learn more about the night sky, while reinforcing an earlier lesson on recognizing the letters V and W. While might be a great resource for kindergarten teachers, I wouldn't dream of setting my kindergarten students loose in that text-rich environment.

I used iKeepBookmarks to create links that young students could explore as part of a prehistoric animals unit. I found the site a bit less intuitive that, but I still think it could be a viable alternative to social bookmarking for younger students.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Social Bookmarking

When I first heard about social bookmarking (, to be precise) just before this course began, I got really excited. Finally, a way to access my bookmarks from any computer hooked to the web! I tend to work at several different computers-- my home office, the school library, Jim's office, my parents' home. Last Thanksgiving, I created an email with the links I felt I would most likely need to complete assignments for my TL-DL class and sent it to myself so I'd have it during my visit to Calgary. How much more efficient to have them online!

I was able to import my bookmarks from my browser easily, and was impressed with the ease of tagging them. They all started out tagged with the name of the folder they had been in (a good place to start), and I enjoyed adding tags to make each link easier to find, for myself and others. I appreciated how intuitive it was to find other sites with the same tags: a simple search box at the top of the page, or click on the tags themselves which act as links.

However, I immediately started to wonder: is the tag 'inquiry' the same and the tag 'Inquiry?' What about homonyms? How many baseball links will my students have to sift through to find out about the one mammal that can fly? And what about well-meaning taggers that can't spell?

I did some playing around and found that had taken care of some of my concerns: tags don't appear to be case sensitive, adding a '-' before a term makes sure it isn't included in search results so students can search "bats -baseball" to refine results. Searches can also be refined with the boolean terms and and or. The seach box searches for terms not just as tag, but also in notes and descriptions, to provide a wider range of results.

What I like best about social bookmarking is how one keyword can lead to many: this would be particularly useful for students doing research as it helps them discover search terms they may not have considered. How far we've come from the old card catalogue days when a student would look up one subject term and not finding anything, give up!

While in my enthusiasm I was initially tempted to suggest students use a social bookmarking site to search for information before using a search engine, I don't think we're quite there yet. For example, a simple search for dogs turns up all kinds of useless links... students would need to be quite proficient at using booleans to narrow their results. My temptation came from my excitement that each of the links tagged on a social bookmarking site have been put there by a real person who has already judged the site to be useful, instead of a computer simply counting external links and looking for keywords without any context. I think this usefulness will only increase as the number of users increase. Tim O'Reilly, while discussing open source code back in 2003 calls this phenomenon the "architecture of participation" and Hammond, Hannay, Lund and Scott explain in their article Social bookmarking tools: A general review how "the result of this approach is that the best applications become more useful for all participants the more that people make use of them." In fact, I think web2.0 takes a lot from open source code: the idea that users can be in control of content and features, that ordinary individuals can make the web a better place.

The networking feature on could also prove to be uniquely empowering to students in the social bookmarking process. A student finds a link they find interesting or useful, and is able to easily pass it on to friends and classmates within a network, making possible the the student creation of pathfinders. Librarians can start the process, but students can now, with a single mouse click and a few typed in tags, add their own discoveries to a pathfinder. That same collaborative approach could be very powerful for educators, as teachers can create networks to easily share site that are useful to their subject, school, district, etc. Professionals can also find others with similar interests and expertise through networks and find out what other sites may be good to check out!

The Educause Learning Initiative in its 7 Things you should know about... Social bookmarking lists some of the downsides of social bookmarking, and they are worth considering. While tagging is powerful because it is done by ordinary people, that same feature makes it unpredictable and inconsisent. This goes back to my concerns over language conventions. Educause also discusses how social bookmarking, like all other web2.0 tools can be abused-- "Because social bookmarking reflects the values of the community of users, there is a risk of presenting a skewed view of the value of any particular topic." This could, however, be another valuable lesson for our students in the critical evaluation of resources on the web.

I wonder if social bookmarking could be another realm for teachers to create a parallel system for the unique needs of students and school? Would it be more useful to have a social bookmarking equivalent to TeacherTube? After all, there are already social bookmarking systems geared more towards scientists (Connotea) and academic researchers (Citeulike), why not one for educational professionals?

I'm looking forward to further exploring this tool!