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 de.icio.us!) 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 box.net 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

Whoa.

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 del.icio.us. In her September 2007 article in Library Journal, Tags Help Make Libraries Del.icio.us, 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 del.icio.us.

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 del.icio.us 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 del.icio.us, 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 (del.icio.us, 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 del.icio.us 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 del.icio.us 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!


By the numbers

While reseaching social bookmarking, I came across some staggering numbers about video sharing in this Mashable blog entry by Sean P. Aune.

"According to the latest numbers from Comscore, a total of 141 million unique viewers, an increase of 2.5 million, watched 10,156,199,000 videos." In December 2007. And only December 2007. I knew video sharing was huge, but these amazing numbers are really making me rethink online video watching.

In my last post, I pretty much condemed YouTube, but as an educator, can I really condemn a phenomenon with such powerful public currency? I am reminded that I need to look past my personal biases in order to provide my students with the most relevant and effective instruction possible.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Suck it up!

C'mon, princess, you can figure this out!

I cyber-bullied myself into making a movie. Here, for all to enjoy, is Sophie's First Month, which I made in Windows Movie Maker using photos from my digital camera. Arlene told me I could use my camera to make a video, and I can, but I haven't been able to get it into a format YouTube likes yet.

This is hard work!

Intimidation factor: 3.5/5

video

Saturday, February 2, 2008

YouTube bad, TeacherTube good!

It took me exactly 2 minutes (yes, I timed it) for me to find objectionable content on YouTube. And it's not like I did a search for smut. In fact, I found it in the 'education' section of the site, as one of the featured videos. Now maybe the video does not exceed the YouTube terms for what is innappropriate, but it wasn't anything I'd want kids watching at school... or in their homes. Granted, I had to be signed in as over 18 before I could view the video, but who's checking? And sure, you are supposed to be over 13 to even use the site, but a brief talk with some of my 3rd and 4th grade recorder students told me "everybody's doing it!"

I decided then to see how long it would take me to find something I considered worthwhile, and it didn't take that much longer: I took a german lesson from someone named Kiwi! A little more digging took me to the non-profit section of the Channels, where I watched a few interesting videos, getting a chuckle out of Keep America Beautiful Man, although even this video I woudn't show to students. A bit more poking around and I found some math tutorials, and more language lessons, but as I feared, surrounded by a lot of... junk.

YouTube verdict: not for schools. But only because there is TeacherTube.

I liked TeacherTube. I watched a teacher give her students a tutorial on setting up a Word Document for assignments and love that it is always there on the web if they forget how to do something, I watched a simple explanation of the principles of flight, and I watched a a wide variety of student produced videos. My favourite was a very simple video featuring 3rd grade students reading their sight words in sentences. Great for practicing at home! That simple use of a powerpoint presentation with kids' recorded voices really made me realize how powerful even the simplest technologies can be... and gave me a lot of ideas for my own practice: kids walking around the classroom narrating colours and shapes, kids reading a book with the camera on a tripod above them, focused on the pictures, maybe even using kidpix to animate number concepts, if that kind of file can be uploaded? Lots of possibilities!

TeacherTube addresses almost all of my concerns about video sharing in the classroom. First, the content seems to be quality and educational, and there is a wide variety. Second, users seem to respect the educational nature of the site and refrain from posting, ahem, objectionable material. Third, the privacy of posters is well protected. Posters have complete control over whether their content can be viewed publicly or just by those invited.

Of course, even TeacherTube can't guarantee the quality of everything that is posted, and so, as Karla Kingsley reminds us in her 2004 article Empower Diverse Learners With Educational Technology and Digital Media, "the quality, content, and effectiveness of digital learning materials can vary tremendously (Williams, Boone, & Kingsley, 2004), making it problematic for teachers to distinguish useful electronic programs and materials from flashy, graphics-intensive products that do little to promote learning." Most kids tend to be attracted to those flashy videos just as I am repelled by them, so it remains the responsibility of teachers to find materials that are flashy, appropriate, and useful.

I have to applaud Jason Smith for recognizing the potential of video sharing in an educational context and working to create a safe space for teachers and students to take advantage of the technology. I think making a video to post on the web for their friends and parents to see would be a very motivating activity for most students, and it's great that teachers have a safe place to help their students do just that!

I will definitely be adopting video sharing into my practice when I return to the classroom, but I've got a lot more to learn before I do. I've never made any kind of video, let along edited it in any way! I think this might be the topic for my PD proposal... nothing like needing to teach others what you know nothing about to motivate you to learn! Now I just need to find a video camera...

Intimidation factor: 4/5