Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Web 2.0 Journey

[Trail]. Retrieved August 15, 2009 from

Six weeks ago, I embarked on a journey. A journey to learn as much about Web 2.0 tools as possible. This journey was filled with peaks and valleys. There were trees fallen in the path that needed to be moved and there was beautiful scenery to view along the way. Let me share with you some of the hilights of my travels.

Peaks and Valleys

Every journey is filled with peaks and valleys and this one was no exception. When I began this journey, the road ahead looked long. In fact, it looked very long. Not only did I not know anything about Web 2.0 but I also need to complete this journey in only 6 weeks? Surely that was not enough time to learn several applications and blog about them. I am proud to say that I did complete this leg. I did find it difficult to balance the time needed to learn the application and complete the blog along with parenting my kids and preparing for a new job. Well, in reality, there probably has not been balance for these past 6 weeks. Perhaps, next week?

Learning how to blog was one of my greatest challenges. When I began this course, my blog was not even what I would call a simple blog. As time has went on, I have found it easier to create a blog, find a theme, and use it to build a "hook". I also learned how to use links and weave them into my writing. I am afraid that my first couple attempts at this were dismal at best. While I still am not a complex blogger as defined by Richardson, with time and perseverance on my journey, I will be able to accomplish this.

Another valley I went through on my journey was in attempting to organize all of the information being thrown at me in this Web 2.0 world. In particular, I have had difficulties building a routine for reading my RSS feeds that come through my Google Reader. Still struggling with how to organize myself, I began searching for some tips on how to organize RSS feeds. The blog 43folders in particular offered me some very useful advice. It said that grouping your feeds was key. However, the suggestion was to NOT use topical folders to sort feeds as all this does is tuck feeds neatly away where they will never get read. Instead, use the following headings to prioritize feeds: News, can't miss, skip 'em, and not news. Perhaps the best piece of advice offered, know when to cut your losses.

For every valley I encountered on my journey, there was a peak to go along with it. While I felt considerable intimidation when beginning to learn some of the first Web 2.0 resources, in particular, podcasting, I am happy to say that those feelings no longer exist. I was pleasantly surprised at how simple and user friendly all of the resources that we used were. This gives me confidence that my students will be able to use the resources as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed our weekly discussions. The tallest peak for me was having the discussion regarding literacy. This is a passion of mine and I was very excited to engage in an intellectual conversation around reading in an online environment. While there still are no answers as to how to best read in an online environment, researchers such as Coiro have done an excellent job at identifying the differences between reading text and reading online. There have also been some strides made to identify particular strategies that could be used for reading in an online environment such as grab and go, skim and scan, and chunking. But, I digress.

Using Delicious was a pinnacle moment in my journey. Social bookmarking has changed the way I use the Internet. It is now so simple to find the bookmarks that I am looking for. Delicious has also changed my search practices. Instead of defaulting to just using Google for searches, I have now began using searches of Delicious tags as well. I found many excellent resources for this course via Delicious. In fact, this is the first tool that I want to introduce to my staff as I believe it will benefit them both personally and professionally. I am planning on referencing, Rodd Lucier, aka the Clever Sheep, in my introduction to the staff as he makes an excellent case for using social bookmarking and views it from an educational perspective.

Sight Seeing

In any journey, it is important to stop and smell the roses. One of the beautiful sites in my journey, in my humble opinion, was the creation of my Animoto video. I love Animoto! Tedious powerpoints goodbye! From now on every school slide show that I create will use Animoto. I couldn't believe how simple it was to create a professional looking presentations. What a treasure!

Some of the most lovely and serene scenery on my journey came from reading my fellow student Shirley's blog. Shirley's blog really shows what true blogging should look like. She has an ability to weave a theme into her blog, hook you immediately, and keep you reading. While my blogging is certainly not to her caliber, she inspired me to keep trying to find the artistry in blogging. Thanks Shirley!

Reflections on the journey

Now that I have completed this leg of the journey, what are my thoughts on the process as a whole? The beginning of the journey was all uphill for me. It took me about 2 weeks to establish a routine that would enable me to spend the time required to learn about the Web 2.0 applications and then be able to thoughtfully reflect upon them. The amount of content that I needed to learn was great and the time was short. This required me to be very disciplined in terms of scheduling my days. Thankfully with time, the process did get easier and the blogging flowed more freely than it initially did. I feel that I have had little time to reflect upon my learning in depth and will now need to go back and sort through my new knowledge and the implications that is has for my teaching practice.

Have I arrived at my destination?

My Web 2.0 journey is not over. In fact, it has just begun. The beginning leg has been completed and I am now at a crossroads. Which path do I take next?

I would like to begin by incorporating some Web 2.0 based lessons into my classroom. Given the age of my students, I think I will begin by using a wiki for our social studies class based upon our community. The layout of the wiki is simple enough that even my young students could contribute to the content.

Given my role as vice-prinicpal in our school, I would like to be able to provide some support and leadership for teachers looking to incorporate Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms. My first step needs to be the procurement of better technology for our building. It will be very difficult to push forward with web-based learning with outdated and unreliable computers. This will be an uphill battle but is one path that I need to take before we can begin fully implementing the Web 2.0 applications in our school. Once the technology is secured, we can begin the slow, deliberate professional development for teachers as we begin to learn about Web 2.0 together. Mike Curtin offered some insightful thoughts about professional development that will be my guide in my journey. He says that effective professional development programs have the following characteristics:
* They are sustained, occurring over weeks, months, or even years.
* They are gradual and incremental, involving a lot of short but connected steps with moments of reflection and integration in between.
* They are collaborative, involving questions, support, and conversation with other teachers in similar situations.
* They directly meet the teacher’s needs, offering solutions to real problems in our every day experience in the classroom.
* Over time, they change the way we see the world and therefore what we do with our students each day in the classroom.

One question I am still left with is how do I sustain my use of Web 2.0 tools once I am back to work in fall? In particular, I am trying to figure out how to make time to check Google Reader, my social networking sites, and blog in an already busy day. I would like to find a time at the beginning of the day to check Twitter and Google reader as I check my G-mail account. Facebook doesn't need to be checked every day. As far as blogging goes, I am still sorting out how that will look for me.

Once I work out a blogging schedule that will fit my lifestyle, I would like to continue working on developing my blogging skills. With time, I want to engage in complex blogging where I can draw on previous blogs or followers comments to build my blogs. This will take time to do and I need to be patient.

[Change]. Retrieved August 15, 2009 from

Will my journey ever be over? I hope not. One thing that we know for sure is that the Internet will continue to change. Anne Davies discusses the importance of teachers being willing to move with the change or risk being left behind. I would like to continue my journey for both my betterment as a professional and so that I am able to offer leadership to my staff. With time, this will lead my school to be on the cutting edge of technology rather than trying to play catch up. After all, we are in the business of doing what is best for kids, and I believe that it is best for kids to use technologies that will help enhance their learning. So with that final thought I say farewell and safe travels!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“Learn to do by doing”—4-H motto

[4-H Logo]. Retrieved August 10, 2009 from

As a young farm girl, I was a member of our community's local 4-H club. Each week we would meet as a group to learn a new skill. You could sign up to learn about raising cattle, sheep, or horses. You could learn how to cook, sew or navigate around the outdoors. No matter what you signed up for, you were expected to learn the new skill by actually practicing the skill each week. Yes, there was instruction and guidance from your leader, but you were expected to be a willing participant each week as you “got your feet wet”.

It is with this philosophy in mind that I began to formulate a plan to present and implement some of the new Web 2.0 tools that I have learned this summer. My goal is to create a technology implementation that is sustained. Lawless and Pellegrino (2007) state that technology implementation increases after professional development but is usually not sustained. They argue that effective professional development activities are longer in duration, give teachers access to new technologies, actively engage teachers in relevant activities, and promote collaboration. After much reflection and taking into account these principles, I have formulated what I call my Seven Steps for PD Success.

Step 1 Build Trust: I am moving to a new school this fall. Previously I have taught high school physics but will be becoming an elementary vice-principal and part-time Grade 2 teacher. As a result, all eyes at the school are now upon me. I am sure that many teachers are wondering what a senior science teacher wants in an elementary setting. They may also be wondering if I have anything to offer them given that all of my experience is at a higher level. I believe that I will need some time at my new school to establish relationships with the teachers and support staff. I will also need to “prove myself” in terms of showing that staff that I have something to offer them. This initial trust building will need to take place before I can begin any technology implementation.

Step 2 Assess Technology Needs: Limited access to computers and software can be a barrier to technology integration (Chen, 2008). The limits of technology are a reality in my school. Our Pre-K to Grade 5 school has only one lab of 25 refurbished computers for us to use. There is no computer tech on site. This summer the Internet was down in the building. After e-mailing the tech twice with no real help, my husband came and fixed it for me! Needless to say, as a result teachers are reluctant to use technology as they are worried about receiving little support. We will need to procure better equipment and establish a plan for support before a technology plan can be implemented.

Step 3 Balance Initiatives: Teachers in our division are currently balancing a number of initiatives. The Ministry of Education recently outlined its priorities for school divisions in a document entitled the Continuous Improvement Framework. These four priorities are to be a professional development focus for divisions. As well, the Ministry is currently renewing all elementary curriculum. Teachers are feeling very overwhelmed and are trying to balance all of these priorities at once. Bauer and Kenton (2005) discuss that a barrier to the integration of technology can be the amount of extra time that teachers initially need for planning technology-focused lessons. I have thought a lot about this issue as I know it is a reality for my teachers. I think that technology needs to be used to enhance current initiatives. For example, the division I work for is embarking on a literacy initiative. Technology such as blogs can be used to help students develop reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.

Step 4 Model Technology: Plair (2008) asserts that “Veteran teachers struggle with new innovative devices, and they are often resistant to technology because they do not see how it fits with their content area.” To help teachers see how they can use technology in their classes, I feel that I must model the incorporation of the Web 2.0 resources for teachers in my own room. I can then begin the process of discussing what I am doing in my room and hopefully inspire others to begin trying some of the applications on their own.

Step 5 Start Small: Baby steps, baby steps. This needs to be my mantra as I work with teachers. Our school is not very technologically literate, so the staff will need to be exposed to one idea at a time. There will need to be real world examples shown to teachers and repeated exposures to the technology for teachers to see. Curtin (2007) agrees with this philosophy and states that effective professional development is gradual and incremental “involving a lot of short but connected steps with moments of reflection and integration in between.”

[Baby Steps]. Retrieved August 10, 2009 from

Step 6 Expect Apprehension, Maybe Even Resistance: Wang, Ertmer, and Newby (2004) argue that a lack of confidence by teachers may limit their amount of technology integration. This apprehension, or possibly fear, may prevent teachers from trying Web 2.0 applications in their classes. I will need to expect these feelings and be willing to work with teachers as they arise.

Step 7 Enlist the Help of E-Learning: We are fortunate to have a E-Learning teacher that is assigned to our school. Her job is to help teachers incorporate new technologies, including Web 2.0 applications, in their classrooms. She has the time to work side by side with teachers and even teach lessons for them to help model for teachers how to use new technology. She will be an invaluable partner in this endeavour.

The Million Dollar Question: What Web 2.0 Application Do I Begin With?

My staff’s comfort level with technology is very low. As stated previously, this is partly due to the limited exposure they have had due to the minimal resources available in the school. There is one teacher in the building who has had a Smart Board installed in her room. She is perhaps the most “tech-savvy” of the group and will be a good person to begin my discussions with. I would like to talk to her at the beginning of the year to see what her needs are. Does she need resources to help students with their writing? Does she need help organizing herself/her students on the web? After this initial conversation I can begin planning on how to integrate the Web 2.0 resources with some of the division’s current initiatives. My initial thought? I would like to start small, perhaps by showing teachers practical applications that will ease their lives such as Delicious or even using Voicethread/Animoto and then build from there.

As with any initiative, the material needs to be introduced in a manner that is comfortable for the participants. The incorporation of Web 2.0 resources is no exception. In order to help maximize my adult learner’s chance of professional development success, I need to be sensitive to their needs. Park et. al. provides some suggestions for PD implementation. These include having a clear vision/purpose for taking on the initiative. Teachers need to buy-in and this will likely occur if they see a need for the technology. They need to be trained so that they have the skills/knowledge required to be successful. Also, they need to have time to prep technology-based lessons. However, at the end of the day, it is up to each teacher to take the plunge and “learn to do by doing”. I can support them in their Web 2.0 journey and show them a need for the technology, but they will eventually need to begin experimenting with the Web 2.0 resources themselves if they wish to fully implement them into their classrooms.

Friday, August 7, 2009

If I Can Do It, You Can Too!

[Blog Cartoon]. Retrieved August 7, 2009 from

Blogging. Children do it, adults do it. In fact as of 2003, nearly half a million people did it (Bartlett-Bragg). Blogs of various assortments have become a very popular way for writers to offer critical reflections on any variety of topics. My pastor blogs his thoughts on readings he feels are important. My former student blogs on his thoughts regarding drama. Many educators also blog on any variety of subject from curriculum to technology.

Paquet (2003) provides a description of five characteristics of blogs. These include:
1. Personal editorship
2. Hyperlinked posting structure
3. Frequent updates
4. Free public access via the Internet
5. Archived postings

Having been an official blogger now for just over a month, I have had time to reflect upon the impact that blogging can have for both students and teachers alike.

Student blogs

Blogging has the potential to be an incredible learning tool for students of practically any age. Lesley Instone argues that blogging allows for a "freer flowing, creative, and contextualized discussion that is more like a conversation." Having students blog allows for them to shift from surface learning to deeper learning. Distance learning students are able to feel less isolated as they can collaborate and share ideas with peers. Students have the ability to reach out to a larger audience offering them a real world experience. Russell Beale concurs and adds that blogging creates a sense of community among students. It forces students to reflect and challenges them to form an opinion. Also, blogging is a high interest activity for students and requires them to have minimal technological skills.

Bartlett-Bragg suggests several ways in which blogs can be used for educational purposes. These include:
-group blogs
-publishing student writings
-field notes
-publishing personal opinions
-learning journals

The Inspiring Teacher blog suggests that blogs can be used to keep parents involved and informed in a quick and economical way. There are suggestions on the blog for structures that you may want to use if setting up a parent blog site.

If choosing to blog with students there are some things that you may want to consider. Teach students how to tell a story of what they are learning rather than just regurgitating what they have read. Also, give students lots of support as they practice writing about learning both before they begin blogging and as the blogging process starts (Davies, 2008).

In his blog, Will Richardson asserts that there may be some obstacles to overcome before teachers will embrace blogging as a classroom learning tool.
1. Fear of kid's safety: Given the stories that teachers hear about children being lured via the Internet, this may be a legitimate concern. To help lessen teachers' worries, they may want to consider blogging using a source that the school can support internally, especially when young children are blogging.

2. Fear of change: To quote Barbara Ganely
…the fear of free-falling, of moving away from the known, of relinquishing control and of the impact on our time and the resulting pressure on how we train our teachers. It’s one thing to talk about subject-centered, collaborative-centered, connected learning (via blogs or not); it’s another thing altogether to make it truly a reality in classrooms employing blogs in ways many edubloggers write about, including me.
Richardson suggests that teachers need to celebrate the success of teachers as they raise the quality of learning in their classrooms.

3. Lack of time: Teachers are very time-strapped professionals. They need time to learn the technology as well as time to think about how to incorporate the technology into practice. One suggested solution is to incorporate the learning of these technologies into pre-service teacher education.

4. Standardized tests/assessments: Richardson says that teachers feel pressure to teach to these standardized tests as their professional status and sometimes pay cheque relies on them. He says that in order for this change to occur, philosophies need to change at a higher level.

5. Lack of research: Blogging is a relatively new teaching tool. Therefore, little research has been conducted regarding its benefits for students. This makes it difficult for administrators to build a case for its implementation to teachers.

6. Lack of support: Many schools have tight technology budgets and, therefore, little teacher supports. One suggestion I would offer is for districts to hire teacher technology specialists to support teachers as my division has done. These "e-learning" teachers can offer support at the ground level for teachers wanting to learn new technologies.

Blogging for professional development

Blogging can be a great tool for professional development. Blogging encourages self-reflection and one's opinions can be challenged as you research and respond to comments on your blog. Through blogs/blogging, you can gain access to a community of professionals. Blogger Ken Allan, also suggests that blogging engages teachers in real action research. Many business-people blog, yet teachers seem to be lagging behind. Greg Whitby offers his thoughts by asking
Why is the education sector lagging behind? Why isn’t our industry leading the thinking and application of such capabilities? Surely we must be on about questioning, challenging and innovation, isn’t this part of our core business? Aren’t things like communication, collaboration, personalisation central to the work we do in schools?

He followed with this:

I am beginning to suspect it’s because educators rarely venture out of their own networks or jump into this world themselves. I don’t think you can effectively engage in this agenda in the abstract, you have to be an active participant. This means that educators have to blog, use wikis, have a facebook page, use del.icio.ous and the like.

So what do educators need in order to become bloggers? Anne Davies suggests that teachers need time to be set aside for reflection and learning. They also need an administrative team that is supportive of their endeavor. Most importantly, teachers need to recognize that each of us has a voice that is worth being heard. Chan and Ridgway add that teachers will need persistance in order to continue with their blogging.

Blogging: Personal reflections

As I stated previously, I have been blogging for just over a month. Would I have became a blogger unless it was needed for the requirements of the course that I am taking? Probably not. My excuses? No time, no technology knowledge, nothing to offer, no interest. Let me address each of these excuses.

No time: I am a busy mother of two who is beginning a new position in fall, so truthfully, I don't have a ton of free time. However, I have noted that most blog posts are very succinct and focus on one issue. Each usually has a couple of sources to either back up your point or offer thoughts on. Every year we are required to complete a professional growth plan that discusses some goals that we will work towards each year. Why not make maintaining a blog a part of my growth plan? I know that it is not realistic to assume that I will blog daily, perhaps not even weekly. I could, however, offer thoughts every couple of weeks. I would love to reflect upon the life of a new administrator/elementary educator as I begin my journey in a new school.

No technology knowledge: Yes, it was true. I really didn't know what I was doing a month ago. However, trial by fire seems to be the best method for learning. I have become good friends with the Blogger help files and have been able to personalize my little bit of web space quite nicely. While I don't have fish to feed or personal avatars like some of my classmates, I do feel quite comfortable using the blogger site and can now add in anything that I need to. So much for that excuse.

Nothing to offer: I know that each of us has a voice that needs to be heard, but why do I sometimes feel like I must be the one exception in this world? I still struggle with believing that I have something to offer others in terms of my knowledge. Sharing that knowledge is even another story. However, I do feel that my blogging can be a personal reflection that I engage in for my own betterment and professional growth. If someone else can learn from my blunders and wonderings all the better.

No interest: This excuse likely was a result of all of the others combined. When you don't know anything about something, how can you be interested in doing it? I had never previously stopped to read anyone's blogs and did not realize the wealth of information that was shared via blogs each day. I am now subscribed to receive feeds from a few blogs of interest to me. Even if my life as a blogger is not sustained, I do believe that I will continue to look to blogs as a source of information and as a means of professional development.

In short, blogging offers students and teachers alike a venue to reflect, learn, and grow. The open forum offered by blogs enables writers to be as creative as they wish as they engage in a higher learning process. Remember if I can do it, you can too!

[Cat Blog]. Retrieved August 7, 2009 from

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wanted: A Prescription for a Case of Information Overload

In June I signed up for my first RSS aggregator--Google Reader. Since that time, I have subscribed to several feeds. Some of these feeds are blogs that I read for my professional development and some are news feeds from organizations that I like to read. This new daily intake of information has led me to feel somewhat overwhelmed at the amount of items crossing my screen each day. How does one use RSS feeds effectively without suffering from information overload?

[Sick Dog]. Retrieved August 6, 2009 from

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It began as a means for readers to receive updates from their favorite bloggers. Since that time many other sites have began to offer readers feeds--everything from job search sites to news organizations. D'Souza discusses the evolution of RSS from blog feeds to feeds such as vidcasts, podcasts, social networking sites, watch lists, peer produced content, productivity tools, and search agents. RSS feeds were designed as a way to quickly and easily gain access to new information. The video entitled What is RSS? does an excellent job of describing the purpose behind the creation of RSS.

In order to view your RSS feeds, you need to subscribe to software called an aggregator. Aggretators store the information from the feeds and allow you to view them easily. I have signed up for Google Reader as my aggregator but D'Souza has compiled a list of others. These include:

Web-Based Aggregators
Bloglines -
NewsIsFree -
Newsgator -
Desktop Aggregator
Fuzzy Duck -
FeedReader -
CITA RSS Aggregator -
Vienna (Mac OS) -
Extensions and Toolbars
Wizz RSS (Firefox) -
My RSS Toolbar – (Internet Explorer) -
Attensa (Outlook) -

My case of the RSS flu

As I stated previously, I signed up for an RSS aggregator (Google Reader), in June after reading Will Richardson's book. Signing up was no problem as I already was using iGoogle and this feature came with the account. All I needed to do now was sign up for some feeds. I decided to do a search on Google Reader for guided reading, as this is an area of interest of mine. My search returned a ton of items. I chose a few of the more popular ones and I was well on my way. I also did a search for Canadian news and subscribed to a couple of feeds. I added my colleagues' blogs in July and, voila, I now was subscribed to 15 feeds in a matter of moments. This is where I soon became ill with information overload. With no real dedication to regularly check my Reader account, I soon had hundreds of unread feeds. One guided reading feed, in particular, was sending out about 20 feeds per day and when I would try to read them, they would make no sense. I felt very overwhelmed by this large amount of information that I needed to read through and began searching for a cure.

In search of a cure

With 1000+ unread feeds in my Google Reader aggregator, I was in desperate need to find a plan with regards to how to handle all of the information coming at me in a meaningful way.

Tara's Plan for RSS success:
1. Cull the amount of feeds you receive. I decided to cull the feeds I was receiving to only those that I would read. I know that 15 feeds was not a lot, but in my case I needed less information until I became used to using the aggregator. I eliminated a couple of feeds that were not providing me with interesting material, the feed that was sending 20 pluse messages per day and the news feeds. The news feeds were responsible for a good portion of my daily feeds and I was already receiving much of the same information via Twitter.

2. Set aside a daily time to read the feeds. I have decided that I need to make reading the RSS feeds a part of my daily routine, just like checking e-mail is. In fact, I have decided that when I check my e-mail in the morning, I will also check Google Reader.

3. Don't feel obligated to read everything. Initially, I felt a need to read everything that came across the screen via RSS. I quickly realized that this is not realistic and have now decided to opt for the skim and scan technique and only read items of interest.

4. Sort usable information. Google reader has several features such as starring items and marking them as read which help to sort information. Louis Gray suggests using the share or share with note option to leave comments on interesting items. If these items are public, you may even start an interesting conversation around an item.

5. Be choosy when adding new feeds. The temptation is always there to add more and more feeds as you travel through the Internet. Some bloggers such as Om Malik have raised concerns with RSS feeds becoming spam like in the content that they are sending through as feeds. Therefore, it is important to be selective with what you sign up to view or you can quickly become overwhelmed.

Using RSS feeds in education

While it may seem as if I am down on RSS, I do see some value in using these feeds for research purposes, whether as a student or as a teacher. RSS is great for receiving up to date information on the latest trends. They can be used for students as a way to gather information on a particular topic or for teachers who are engaging in professional development. As an administrator, I can see value in RSS helping me to be able to share current information with my staff.

RSS does have the capacity for helping readers collect a large quantity of information on any topic in a simple fashion. However, like any tool, users need to be purposeful in how they use the tool so that they don't suffer a bad case of information overload. If this happens to you, take a dose of my prescription and you'll be feeling better in no time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I'll follow you if you follow me!

[Twitter cartoon]. Retrieved August 4, 2009 from

Newsrooms around the world use this tool for up to the second information. Barack Obama uses it to announce press conferences to the world. What is it you may ask? Why, Twitter of course! When I first talked about Twitter and tweeting to my dad, his face scrunched up as he said, "twit what?" I must confess that this was my initial reaction when I first heard of the mysterious world of Twitter. Popularity in this micro-blogging application has skyrocketed with the number of visitors increasing by 95% in March alone from 9.8 million to 19.1 visitors according to a recent Tech Crunch report. Businesses are using Twitter for free advertising, celebrities are using Twitter to increase their popularity and political organizations are using twitter to campaign. This leads me to wonder, what it the appeal of Twitter? Why would I want to "follow" some random people's thoughts?
[Twitter Chart]. Retrieved August 4, 2009 from

What is Twitter?

For those of you who are "non-tweeters", Twitter is a tool that allows users to post updates about their thoughts, activities, etc. Each "tweet" is no longer than 140 characters making the messages very condensed micro-thoughts posted for others to read. You can choose to follow other's Twitter pages and their tweets are automatically posted to your homepage.

What's the allure of Twitter? Clive Thompson states that
Individually, most Twitter messages are stupefyingly trivial. But the true value of Twitter … is cumulative. The power is in the surprising effects that come from receiving thousands of pings from your posse. And this, as it turns out, suggests where the Web is heading.

So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends… It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.

Entering the world of Twitter

Well, Clive says that you have to enter the world of Twitter to understand it, so I figured why not give it a try. A few weeks ago, I signed up for my Twitter account. It was simple enough. After this initial step, I thought, now what? I searched for people I may know and came up blank. So, I threw out a random first tweet to get the ball rolling. By the end of the day I had two followers, both people I did not know. Wow, that tweet must have been incredibly thought provoking! A couple of days later, I decided to try to find my fellow classmates. I manage to find a few and became followers of their tweets. Now, whenever I open my homepage, I can see what they are up to. Being somewhat of a news junkie, I also remembered hearing that many of my favorite news stations were also on Twitter, so I signed up to follow a couple of them. I must admit that I have enjoyed getting the up to the minute news feeds from CBC Saskatchewan. Each tweet simply lists the headline and then offers a link to read more. Some of the other feeds I have chosen to follow do not seem to be posting regularly making me wonder if I should be following them at all. In order to get into the spirit of becoming a true tweeter, I have tried to post some thoughts regularly.

To effectively use Twitter, I have had to learn some new language. To save you the confusion that I felt, I have listed a few pointers for those of you starting out:
1. RT-this means retweet and is used if you are reposting a tweet that you read that was originally posted by someone else.

2. Replying to a question-I noticed that many tweets are questions to the group of followers. To reply to a question posted, type @ followed by the user's name (e.g. @ttanner2008) and then type your message. This tweet will be posted for all to see but will be addressed to the person you are wishing to respond to.

3. Sending a direct message-If you want to send a direct message to someone, type d and then the user name (e.g. d ttanner2008). This will send the message directly to the person you want to respond to and they will receive and e-mail notification.

[Twitter Cartoon]. Retrieved August 4, 2009 from

Twitter in the Classroom

When initially thinking about using Twitter in the classroom, my mind immediately envisioned thirty students mindlessly typing random messages in a chaotic fashion, aka every teacher's nightmare. However, upon further research, I can see some potential uses for Twitter in classrooms with older students. Zach Miners lists some potential uses for Twitter in the classroom. These include organizing academic networks, virtual study groups, and resource sharing. He also suggests using Twitter to create interactive response journals where students read the text and then tweet their thoughts and pose questions to the group.

In the video, The Twitter Experiment, Dr. Rankin and her students extol the virtues of using Twitter in a University setting. Some of the benefits identified in the video were that Twitter
-forces students to get out of their comfort zone
-increases the interest of students
-offers a non-threatening forum to express ideas
-provides an opportunity for everyone to have a voice
-allows students to add to the knowledge found on the Internet
-is a great study tool as students can review past tweets
-forces students to really focus on what their opinion is before tweeting
-is accessible from anywhere

The Twitter Experiment. (2009). Retrieved August 4, 2009 from

Willis Whitlock believes that there are benefits to using Twitter in education as opposed to blogs and wikis. He states:
Many teachers find that Twitter is a better online collaboration tool than wikis or blogs. Some of the reasons include:

Easy access- Twitter is invisible technology. The student doesn’t need to learn a set of buttons and menus.

Low Risk- Reluctant learners can handle 140 characters (usually less). There’s little chance of failure.

Real time- Students see their project grow as they work. Collaborators can work from different computers with out fear of clogging the project (a problem with many blogs and wikis)

No formatting- Given bells and whistles, many students will ring and toot instead of write. The simplicity of Twitter offers only a place to add text.

Concise writing- 140 characters means each word has to be necessary. The process of posting to Twitter forces students to become better writers.

Grosseck and Holotescu caution that there may be some downsides to using Twitter in the classroom. If using Twitter in the classroom, it could become a major distraction for teachers trying to lecture. Twitter may cause a teacher to be on-call 24/7 as students can tweet at any time of day. This may blur the teacher's personal and professional lives. Also, there is a risk of receiving Twitter spam. That is, your class may gain followers who are outside of your classroom.

Twitter for professional development

Perhaps the most exciting use for Twitter is in its ability to offer professional development opportunities. David Wetzel argues that Twitter offers time strapped teachers an easy way to collaborate with colleagues, provides a quick way to share resources, and offers a forum for self-reflection. By following other educators, teachers are able to stay current on topics of interest to them and are able to enlist advice from a reliable network of teachers. Twitter may help to eliminate the isolation that beginning teachers sometimes feel as they are able to seek advice from others in the profession in a non-threatening environment. Katie Ash adds that teachers can use Twitter as a way to promote professional development events, seminars, etc.

Blogger Frieda Foxworth uses Twitter almost exclusively for professional development. She states that she was selective in whom she chose to follow, choosing only like minded professionals and, as a result, has created an entire community of professionals to collaborate with. She states:
As I interact with these people in ongoing short phrases, we have a shared understanding of what it means to be passionate about the role of technology in education. We share great ideas, our successes, our frustrations, and things we’ve learned in the midst of the sprinkled tidbits of our personal lives. Teacher collaboration has been identified as a key factor in raising student achievement, and through social networking tools like Twitter, I can collaborate and learn from the best around the world.

In order to enhance my Twitter experience, I decided to search for some "like minded professionals" of my own. I came across k3teachers. She is a retired K-3 teacher who has tweeted some fabulous stuff on teaching in a K-3 classroom. By looking at the list of who she follows, I was easily able to identify others who have posted similar tweets and, thus, I have began creating my network.

There are some downsides to using Twitter for PD purposes. As you begin to follow more people, your homepage will quickly fill up with tweets. You will waste a ton of time if you try to read every tweet. Using Tweetdeck to help you sort your tweets into groups of your choosing may help to eliminate some of the "clutter". To help your followers, try to keep your tweets relevant for your audience.
[Twitter cartoon]. Retrieved August 4, 2009 from

"The twitter experience is only as good as your network." (elearnr) I discovered this downside in a real hurry. Without having someone meaningful to follow and read, Twitter quickly becomes an empty void in which to throw your thoughts into. It takes time to find someone to follow. Once you find someone you like following, try seeing who they follow in order to increase your network.

So, at the end of the day, do I want to follow some random person's every thought? No, absolutely not. However, I do want to find and follow people who are like minded professionals, people who have insights and knowledge that will help me to grow and develop as a professional. I probably never will care if someone is going out to by groceries or is renovating their deck, but I do see value in learning from a collective of peers. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Or, in the case of Twitter, as many heads as you choose to follow!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

To Network or Not to Network, That is the Question...

Social networking is perhaps the biggest Web 2.0 trend amongst children and adults alike. Millions of users log onto social networking sites every single day to view their friends' updates or post what they are doing to their faithful followers. One study conducted in 2008 claimed that MySpace was the most visited site on the Internet, surpassing even Google! Yet social networking sites have been prohibited in 52% of school districts in the United States. This leads one to question: Should we be using social networking sites in educational settings?

[Monkey]. Retrieved August 2, 2009 from

What is social networking?

Edublogger Steve Hargadon defines social networks as "collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities." When the term social network is mentioned, most people's minds immediately think of sites such as Facebook or MySpace. While these social networking sites are the most popular of their kind, there are other social networking sites on the Internet. For example, my 7 year old daughter social networks on children's sites such as Webkinz and Club Penguin. There are many social networks created for specific groups using Ning. One of particular interest for educators is Classroom 2.0. This social network is is designed for teachers who are interested in using Web 2.0 in their classroom and has nearly 5000 members.

Social Networking in Plain English offers further insight into the structure of social networks.

Commoncraft. (Producer). (2007). Retrieved July 31, 2009 from

Using social networks in education

One of the struggles that I have wrestled with is how to use social networks in an educational setting. Boyd (2007) shed some light on this predicament for me when she asserted that the value of social network sites is not is how they are used in the classroom but in how they create an environment for "informal social learning that is required for maturation, understanding your community, learning to communicate with others, working through status games, building and maintaining friendships, working through personal values, etc." Basically, social networking sites allow students an opportunity to build their personal social values and skills in a relatively "safe" environment. In particular, this may provide students who are not socially confident a forum for self-expression and friendship building (Thelwall, 2008).

A recent survey asked teens why they joined social networks. The top three reasons were:
1. To learn new things
2. To do homework together with friends
3. To play games
In fact, according to the National School Board Association, 59% of students talk about education related topics online and 50% of these students specifically talk about schoolwork. Boyd (2007) argues that "social networking sites do not make youth engage educationally, they provide educationally motivated youth with a structure to engage educationally." She suggests that students may use social networking sites to ask each other questions about homework, post links and resources to share with fellow students, or they may even engage with teachers outside of class. This type of Web 2.0 application appears to have a more informal, yet still important, role to play in education.

Should teachers be actively engaging with students via social networking sites? This question seems to be a grey area with supporters lined up on both sides of the fence. Boyd (2007) contends that all teachers should have a public profile on the popular social networking sites. If a child asks to be your friend, this should be seen as a sign of respect. Teachers should then talk to students if they notice any questionable content being posted. Teacher Randy Turner would agree as he uses MySpace as a way to be available to his students. Students can ask Turner questions that they may have about course content outside of the school day. However, this can be a slippery slope. Teachers and students need to maintain a certain line of distinction between them. Making students your Facebook or MySpace friends may blur this line and I personally would not engage in this activity.

A safer way to engage with students via social networking sites may be by creating a school or class Ning site. This would provide an environment for students or parents to interact with one another in a safe environment without worrying about personal information being shared. Nings are an excellent way to maintain parental contact easily and in a time efficient manner. Moorman (2009) used a class Ning with her education students to offer them a forum for reflection during their internship experiences. Our current school website is very restrictive in its design as it must adhere to a particular template. As a result, it is quite ineffective. I have created a school Ning that I plan on using as a forum for parent, student, and teacher communication beginning this fall.

Dalsgaard (2009) offers some thoughts on the pedagogical implications of students using social networks versus other communication tools. The four points that I found significant include:
1. Social networking sites facilitate transparency between students. They have "insight into each other's work, thoughts, and productions." This may not necessarily be the case with other more traditional forms of online education.

2. Social networking sites support weak social ties rather than strong ties. These weak ties, usually created by making someone your online "friend", create an awareness of other's thoughts and ideas with the group while you may not have a strong personal relationship with them.

3. The starting point within social networks sites is the individual. Each person signs up by themselves. In other online communities, the focus is the group as a whole.

4. Social networking sites are unique in that your homepage is a personalization of you. You are always "present". Whereas, in a discussion group, you are only present if you post.

Food for thought before students begin social networking
[Food for thought]. Retrieved August 2, 2009 from

So, with all of the positive implications surrounding the relationships students build with one another and the genuine learning communities that are created via these networks, why are so many school districts banning their use? Freedman (2007) raises concerns that young children don't have the ability to assess the safety of a site or person. This may not be a matter of training, but rather a result of their brain's development. For older students, who are able to think with a higher level of critical thinking, Boyd (2007) suggests that " key and it needs to be clear that there are no correct answers; it's all a matter of choice and pros and cons."

Teachers and students also need to engage in conversation around using prudence when posting items on social networking sites. Many employers now look to these sites as a means of screening potential employees. Something posted on a whim may have unintentional consequences later on.

Cyberbullying is becoming cause for concern for educators. It is much easier to name call and say hurtful things to peers online rather than face to face. This issue is still so new that few schools have policies on how to deal with issues that occur online or with regards to items that are posted on social networking sites (Davis, 2008). The popularity of social networks will only continue to grow. With this growth, so will some of the issues associated with students using them. District policy makers need to establish clear guidelines for in-school administrators surrounding student behaviour on social networking sites complete with clearly laid out consequences.

Using Facebook--personal reflections

I am no stranger to social networking sites. I began using Facebook two years ago, primarily as a means to communicate with a friend who was moving to France for a year. I established a basic Facebook homepage and initially uploaded only a profile photo of myself. I searched for a few friends to begin "networking" with. At that time, I discovered that many of the people that I was searching for were not yet on Facebook. Throughout the first year of Facebook use, I began to find more people that I had lost contact with years before. Childhood friends popped up as well as all four of my closest university friends. Facebook enabled me to maintain contact with them when I would have otherwise let the friendships lapse. I began posting albums of photos of my family vacations and my friends did the same. It has been fantastic as I am able to see their families grow-up even though we are miles apart. I confess, that while I do check other's status updates often, I rarely post one of my own, making myself an information leech of sorts. I appreciate the messaging feature that allows me to send longer messages to my friends from time to time. One thing that I have learned over the past few years is to limit the number of applications you subscribe to. Each time you accept an invitation to a certain application, you are allowing the makers of the application access to your profile. They can then use this information however they want.

[Facebook Logo]. Retrieved August 2, 2009 from

To use or not to use Facebook in an educational setting? Personally, I would not use Facebook for educational purposes. Each time a student has requested to be my friend I have declined. I have talked with my students about my rule of not being their friends on Facebook as I feel it crosses a professional line. You could use Facebook without becoming friends by creating a Facebook group for your class. Students could post comments on a variety of discussion topics to the group. However, I do believe that using a Ning would be a better choice for a group forum as it is specifically designed to support a targeted group of people.

So, should we use social networking sites in an educational setting? It depends. Social networks are fantastic at creating student-led learning communities. They can also be useful in the form of a Ning where a site is created for a specific purpose. Should teachers and students network as friends? That choice is up to the individual teacher/student. If you do choose to go that route, be careful that the professional lines do not become blurred. At any rate, social networking sites are here to stay and schools need to discuss how to use them appropriately in an educational setting and design policy to support their decisions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are mashups more than "high-tech tinker toys"?

Mashups are one of the greatest products of Web 2.0. Mash what, you may say? This "techy" term may be unfamiliar to the lay user. According to Business Week (2005) mashups are "home spun combinations of mainstream services." Creators of mashups take any two or more web applications and combine them together in a new way. Min Liu et. al (2008) state that "mashups acknowledge the role of the user by providing ways for data to be combined, repurposed, reorganized, and in some cases added or deleted." Mashups are designed by mixing together any number of things, and are often created by everyday Internet users. This bottom-up approach to creating new applications is what makes mashups unique. However, this led the writers of Business Week to question if many mashups are simply "high-tech tinker toys" for Internet users?

[Tinker Toys]. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from

Is this the case? While I personally have little interest in viewing the Google map of the stars mashup or want to check out where the latest crime was in Chicago, there are several mashups that may enhance both my personal and professional life as a teacher. Min Liu et. al. (2008) acknowledge that because mashups are so new, little research has been conducted on how to use mashups in an educational setting. I would have to concur with their assertion as my own search of professional journals for research conducted on mashups yielded few results. However, I was able to discover a few mashups that I think will be particularly useful in the classroom.

1. Voicethread: Voicethread is a mashup that helps users to create interactive albums. Users can download photos, drawings, video, etc. and then comment on them in a number of ways. Other people are also able to comment on your uploads, thereby, creating a collaborative community of users.

2. Map Skip: This is a mashup that is used in conjunction with Google maps. Users can mark points on maps and then add stories, images, and audio to points they have marked.

3. Ficly: This mashup allows users to collaborate when writing by using images as a starting point for their writing. Teachers and students can also offer comments on each other's work.

Min Liu et. al. (2008) extol the virtues of mashups by stating that "mashups offer new, alternative and hybridized ways of viewing and manipulating internally or externally created content". They also remark that mashups allow students to be actively engaged in the learning process and are freely available to anyone who wants to use them. Mashups offer students an opportunity to learn in a real world context and thus, this encourages higher level thinking skills.

However, Brian Lamb (2007) offers some points for consideration when using mashups for academic purposes. He contends that before mashups can be used for legitimate academic purposes, three things must occur. First, the user must have access to open and discoverable resources. As the Internet continues to expand, I would argue that this is already attainable. Second, users must have access to open and transparent licensing. In other words, you need to be able to legally use the resources that you find. This is a grey area yet with Canada's copyright laws regarding Internet resources still in limbo. Third, users must be able to produce material that is open and remixable. This means that whatever users create using mashups needs to be able to be made into forms that are easily accessible for viewers. I would argue that this is becoming less and less of a concern as many mashup sites offer free downloads to anyone who wishes to use their site, making the content on them available to anyone with a computer.

A Mashup Case Study: Digital Storytelling

While it would be impossible to examine every type of mashup available, I did want to look carefully at Voicethread, a mashup purposed toward digital storytelling. According to Daniel Meadows, educator, photographer and storyteller, digital stories are "short, personal, multi-media tales told from the heart." He goes on to describe digital stories as "multimedia sonnets for the people" in which "photographers discover the talkies, and the stories told, assemble in the ether as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a gaggle of invisible histories which, when viewed together, tell the bigger story of our time, the story that defines who we are". Well, with that kind of picturesque description, who wouldn't want to give digital storytelling a try?

[Microphone]. Retrieved July 29, 2009 from

Having never used Voicethread before, I decided to sign up for yet another user name and password. I watched a quick tutorial on how to use Voicethread and decided to try uploading some pictures of my own. I was pleased to see that Voicethread can take pictures you have already uploaded to other sites such as Flickr and Facebook and transfer them over to Voicethread. I decided to load my Facebook pictures. In a matter of seconds, I had all of my Facebook albums at my disposal. I chose to upload a few pictures of my trip to Hawaii. Okay, the pictures were in, now, how to comment? After dragging out my microphone, I need to figure out where the comment button was. I quickly discovered in in the bottom middle of the picture. I recorded myself commenting on each of the pictures I uploaded and I was good to go. Step three was deciding how to share my new creation. One of the options was to embed the code for your voicethread in your blog, so I decided, why not? You will see my handiwork posted on my previous blog. Please, feel free to add to my conversation by commenting on my pictures. A word of caution, in my zeal to create voicethreads, I soon discovered that you are only allowed three free voicethreads before you have to start paying a monthly fee. So use your free ones wisely!

Why use Voicethread in the classroom?

Bill Ferriter (2007) describes some of the benefits to using Voicethread in the classroom. Ferriter contends that Voicethread allows teachers to seamlessly integrate technology into the classroom. This type of technology fits perfectly with many of the components of the Balanced Literacy plan being implemented in many divisions. Also, he states that there are minimal computer skills required to use Voicethread. Therefore, there is no technology barrier for students to overcome before they can effectively use the tool. Ferriter (2008) goes on to contend that Voicethread allows all students the opportunity to participate in the activity regardless of their popularity or shyness. Multiple conversations can occur simultaneously whereas in the classroom, only one stream of conversation happens at once.

Ideas for using Voicethread in the classroom

The ways in which Voicethread can be used in the classroom are endless. Here are some of my favorite ideas.

-Mark Warner, a teacher who regularly uses Voicethread, used this application to teach his primary students empathy skills. Warner had his students listen to a film, containing no speech, without viewing it. He had them note the music that was being played and the sound effects heard. Following this activity, the students brainstormed what they thought was happening in the film. Warner uploaded various pictures from the film to Voicethread and then had the students comment and give life to the characters.

-Voicethread is great for having students develop higher level thinking skills and for having them talk about their thinking. Wesley Fryer (2008) had his daughter reflect on her thinking after reading the book Charlotte's Web. He believed that this created a more meaningful experience for her than filling out worksheets did.

-Voicethread4education offers many ideas on how to use this tool in the classroom. Some ideas include having students collect comments from students and staff on a certain topic, having students collaborate on ways to live using the 100 mile diet, and using Voicethread to create class holiday greetings.


The Teachers Teaching Teachers "Revisiting Voicethread" webcast offers several tips for teachers beginning to use Voicethread.

1. Start small. You may want to begin by having students simply leave comments on other's voicethreads rather than trying to create their own.

2. Have students begin by using a script until they are well versed enough to have freer conversations.

3. Emphasize to students that they are carrying on a conversation with others and to use that "voice" when creating their voicethread.

So, are mashups more than "high-tech tinker toys"? I would have to say yes and no (It's a cop out I know!). Some mashups are nothing more than a novelty that can be used for fun. There are others, however, such as Voicethread, that have great educational potential. At the end of the day, your view of mashups will depend upon the purpose that you are using it for. As an educator, I can see great potential in using some of these applications to enhance my teaching and to enable students to actively engage with the material in a real world context that may otherwise not be possible.