In Search of a Metaphor

I thought of many angles for this final blog:

1. I was going to use the metaphor of the television show “Law & Order”. For those that have watched it, you know that the show is very much story driven and while you know the characters, you don’t really “know” them. In any given episode information might be given away about one of the main characters that allows the ever constant viewer to better understand the motives of that character. In episode X, we learn that one of the detectives has an ex-wife and suddenly we understand a bit more about that character. Not a lot, but a bit more. In a lot of ways, I thought that this might be a great metaphor for this course or for web 2.0 in general. In the course we learn snippets of things, but given the timeline, we can never “go deep”, our superficial knowledge allows us something, but never quite enough. Same goes for the social web in general, sure I can follow Lee Kolbert (@teachakidd) and know that she got shin splints last week. The main part of the story is that she has some great ideas about teaching kids, the extra info just helps to paint a better picture of her.
2. I considered too the idea of only pulling resources from this week’s blog from twitter. That I would jump in my canoe so to speak and ride the river that is twitter and see where it would lead me. Documenting this trip would form the basis of the blog entry and serve as a kind of metaphor for where this social networking thing was headed. I thought too, that because things are changing so quickly (see my last blog entry) it’s hard to consider using the U of A database for this kind of research because by the time it’s posted, things have already changed so dramatically.
3. Another angle came from watching my five year old nephew surf his mom’s iPhone. Without hesitation, he picked it up, pressed some buttons and was in an app store looking at games he could download for the phone. This whole notion of risk taking for him is like speaking a different language. From his point of view there’s no risk in trying. And sure, he’s going to mess up, and mom is going to freak out that he downloaded $50 worth of games, but he’s not going to learn about risks until an adult tells him about it. Maybe the problem is that we just need to structure the learning environment a bit better.
4. Finally, I thought I’d do this whole comparison between the buzz-terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” and how some of us easily fit into one of these categories (if you are over 30 years old, most likely the latter) but that some of us have a foot in each of these worlds. I was an undergrad in the early-to-mid 90’s as the Internet really began to take hold. So in lots of ways, I was in at the ground level, learning about PING and FTP, upgrading to my 14.4 modem, downloading my email with Eudora and thinking I was pretty incredible by being able to network two computers to play head-to-head DOOM. However, as the iterations of the internet rolled out (reference here) I fell further and further behind. In the world of web 2.0, I am indeed a digital immigrant. My knowledge and/or experience with web 1.0 probably has made me less afraid of exploring or trying things out for this course, but in lots of ways I know very little about the web 2.0 world because I am not “native to it. At the same time, while I can say I’m not afraid to try things, I think my age/experience/positon has some impact on restricting me from trying some things (see my blog entry on facebook).

So with all of this in mind, I don’t know that I’ve actually chosen any one metaphor to organize my thinking here. Do know that these are the kinds of thoughts running in the back of my mind as I work my way through this reflection.

Highlights of My Learning
The highlight of my learning was probably getting to share some of these new ideas with both my staff and with some of the 4th year ed students at our college. By no means am I an expert, but trying some of these tools and having my staff see me try them, has inspired some to experiment with some of the tools. If anything, that notion of being a bit of a risk-taker and chucking it aside has been a highlight for me. I’ve probably clicked on more things and more buttons than I ever would have in the past, afraid that something nasty would happen to my computer. And while I did have to get my computer re-imaged once during this course (not necessarily blaming it on the course!) in the end, I think the risk taking was well worth it.

As I’ve said before, through this course I have discovered some very key tools for me: iGoogle, Twitter, Voicethread and my blog have all become tools that I’ve started to use regularly and tools that I’ve become a bit evangelical about!

Lowlights of My Learning
For me, this is probably facebook. I get the appeal, I get how people use it as a communication tool with their friends and family, I get all of that. However, I think I put my canoe in the water too late on this one. I don’t have many friends that use facebook, and my wife takes care of most of the family photo-sharing etc. I would bet money that if I had jumped into this sooner, when things were first taking off, I would be a better user of this tool. My guess is that I will likely delete my account or let it stagnate after the course.

Future Plans
One of the pillars of my school is “meaningful, integrated technology." As a staff we fundamentally believe that you don’t “do computers” for the sake of doing computers. That in the real world, the computer, or software is a tool that can be used to enhance learning and to help students to construct new meaning. So when I look at a tool like Voicethread, I think about the practical and meaningful ways in which student assessement (both summative and more importantly formative) could really be enhanced.

Even though a lot of my learning in this course has focused on me as a learner and how I might apply things to my school, I want my next step to focus on researching how students can be using these tools to enhance their learning and our school at the same time. Instead of me blogging (although I’m not throwing that notion out) I’d like to see their book reviews posted on our site, or photos that they’ve taken or glogs (NB – another thing I’d like to explore) they’ve created linked from our site. In the end it will be the students who drive this bus (canoe?) it’s simply a matter of how much latitude we are willing to give them.

Tools to Share
I was at a CASS meeting last week in Calgary and roomed with my superintendent. We were talking about learning and professional development and I told him how surprised I was at how valuable I found Twitter to be. I told him that he needed to give it a try and that I could provide some suggestions to him as to who to start following. He was surprised by this, as are most people, because the tool – on the surface – looks to be at best a mildly entertaining distraction. If I knew that staff would follow it regularly, I would create a list for my staff and provide links (mostly through re-tweeting) but it would certainly provide them with valuable ideas.

More importantly than any specific tool though, is that I want to encourage teachers to explore and try new things. I want them to do some of the reading that shows that while we know what the pitfalls are around online learning, do we really understand the benefits. Check out the link below to the BBC article this week that shows, rather surprisingly, how much students are reading and writing and how much they feel they are improving through blogging or reading other people’s blogs.

As a member of our district’s technology learning committee, we’ve pushed for the IT people in our district to at least experiment with some ideas. I’m happy to say that because of some of this lobbying, next semester in one of our high school physics classes, students will be able to bring their own electronic devices to log on to the network and participate in a course that will combine “live” teaching with some aspects of Moodle.

Learning from Others
Without getting too specific, there are really three things that I learned from others in this course. The first and most important came from the reflective dialogue in our discussion groups. I’m a huge advocate for teachers getting into other teacher’s classrooms. Watching them teach, figuring out what makes them effective. However, this is only the first part of the process. The most important part comes afterwards when those same teachers have the chance to sit down and engage in meaningful reflective dialogue. Why did they choose to ignore a behaviour, weren’t they worried about not covering something, didn’t they…? It was great to have this discussion venue that allowed us to engage in this kind of dialogue that I think truly moved our understanding forward and was something that simply couldn’t be gleaned from reading one another’s posts.

Secondly, I think the “linkage” that people provided was crucial to my learning. Whether that was a link to a website in a blog post to a citation for a book, my colleagues in this coursed shared with me many great resources.

Courage is the last thing I learned. Each of us shared or at least alluded to the apprehensions or intimidation factors we felt going into this course and yet each week I’d learn a new skill from someone’s posting on the discussion board or in their blog. Want to figure out how to do a screen capture? Just visit someone’s blog and someone has tried it (thanks to Jackie for referencing! Again I think about what this would be like in a classroom setting where students are learning from other students, through playing and experimenting. Being able to create that kind of learning environment is what I want to be able to do.

The Whole Picture
I’d like to tie this up by connecting three things. The first comes from the Davies and Merchant text. They provide this little vignette near the start of the text that talks about riding on a train and seeing all of the different ways that people are using literacy and language. From reading newspapers to listening to iPods, the point is that our concept and definition(s) of language and literacy have changed over time and that we cannot simply say that one is better than another.

This is supported by the recent BBC article that surveyed over 3000 nine to sixteen year olds and found that those that blogged rated themselves as significantly better writers when compared to those who did not engage in blogging or social networking.

All of this I want to contrast with the epilogue of Will Richardson’s text. He paints this picture of fictional teacher “Tom McHale” engaging seamlessly in a web 2.0 world. Mr. McHale does so in a manner that makes his life much simpler and his teaching much better. Life is good for him and it is implied that life is better for everyone around him (parents, students, colleagues) because of Tom’s skill.

It is this final kind of thinking that I think we have to be really careful about. I don’t think it was Will Richardson’s intent, but I think this kind of narrative is exactly the kind of thing that intimidates and pushes teachers away from technology. They read this and think, “there’s no way I can do that.” And in some ways they are probably correct. Learning these tools and trying to make this all feel “seamless” is a lot of work. Ask anyone taking this course! (As a funny, yet sad aside, my 4 yr. old daughter told my mom that “daddy didn’t help set up the Christmas tree, he just does computer.”)

We know it is valuable but we have to be careful to not paint it as a panacea. Reflective dialogue is essential for educators so that we consider why we make the choices we make. This is where I would begin to connect these questions to more philosophical considerations like those of Posner (I knew that History of Curriculum course would com in handy!). Where does all of this fit into the official, operational, hidden and null curriculum? If we use technology for technology’s sake are we engaging in some sort of hidden curriculum and simply using technology, as Donald Normans says, as a means of conforming learners?

Rogers suggests five stages of the diffusion of learning that educators may want to consider. The first is knowledge and he suggests that here we know the technology exists but we likely don’t use it, in fact are prone to not use it. This turns to the persuasion stage (perhaps where those around me are at) where they start to emulate others who have begun adopting the technology. Their use of the technology at this point is very simple and designed to support the official curriculum they are teaching. This moves through a decision stage where teachers decide to accept or reject the innovation followed by an implementation stage where they begin to use the innovation in more creative and relevant ways. Finally, the confirmation stage has teachers seeking out others to collaborate with and improve their teaching.

Each of these points represents a philosophical jumping off point for us. We clearly know where many of the technophiles we have followed this semester stand. Each of us has a better understanding of how these tools can be used to impact the classroom positively and now each of us faces the challenge of sharing this with others. It will be crucial that we understand both philosophically and pedagogically where we stand.

References & Linkage

Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

Goddard, M. (2002). What do we do with these computers? Reflections on technology in the classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 35(1). ProQuest Education Journals.

Norman, D.A. (1993). Things that make us smart. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Posner, G.J. (1995). Analyzing the curriculum. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Rogers, E.M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

The More Things Change…the More They Change

Reflections on Learning

I got an Ironman watch for Christmas a couple of years ago and have proceeded to lose the watch a few times. Lose is a loose term here, because mostly it has been my toddler son who finds my watch fascinating and then puts it in strange places. Once, for about a month, the watch was in the house somewhere. I knew this because every morning at 6:45 am the alarm on my watch would go off, but I was never quick enough to find it before I lost the signal. I eventually found it inside a container of Elmo dominoes. Last month I was reorganizing the garage and found it tied to a kid’s set of golf clubs. Don’t know how that happened, but I was happy to have it back.

Time is this constant, and I know this because each time I’ve “lost” my watch, when I find it, it is still keeping the proper time. Perhaps daily savings time has been implemented and I need to make a slight alteration, but for the most part things are pretty much unchanged in my relationship between my watch and I the time while we were apart.

But what if that wasn’t the case. What if while I was away, my watch decided to start telling time differently? A bit far-fetched I suppose, but what if? What if by some cosmic force time had been altered and I didn’t know about it, but my watch did? How would I react or adjust to this? Would I simply tell my watch to go back to its old way of keeping time or would I adjust to the new?

For me, the Internet is a real-life version of this far-fetched scenario. And if it feels like this to me, how does it feel to someone who isn’t immersed in its use? I can’t imagine. In a lot of ways we teachers are assembly line workers who like to break things down into manageable patterns. Sure we add a few different tricks every once in a while, but when we find something that works, we like to stick to it. How else to you account for PowerPoint being so pervasive and simultaneously so useless?

In so many ways, I feel like the Internet has shifted spaces on me since the beginning of this course. Nowhere is this more apparent for me then with blogging and RSS feeds. It’s like I put them in a special place so that I knew just where my information would always be, but when I went to get them, they had moved. Not physically, but fundamentally.

The Personal Level

There are definitely multiple levels to my learning about blogs and RSS feeds during the course of this course. I had some experience with these things before the course and used them, but only slightly and only for personal interests. In that way, I have a tremendous amount of thanks to this course for expanding my list of sources and resources.

The most significant change for me is that this course has fundamentally changed how I use Google. Where most people I know see a typical, rather white, Google search page, mine now looks like this:

Perhaps not a huge change for some, but I think it goes back to the notion that Phil McRae researched about – the way the web self organizes. Previously, so much of this information for me was all over the place – in my browser history, in my favourites – with passwords to remember and sites to remember. Now things are compiled. Between my “iGoogle” page, my blog, my Delicious tags and Twitter, most of what I need or am interested in can be managed in about 4 tabs.

For me this means that my approach to learning and to the Internet has become so much more organized and simplified. Whereas before I would have had about “30 clicks” to make to get up-to-speed on things, it’s done in 3-5. Rather than me going out and finding the information I want, the information is coming to me. This is something repeated by Will Richardson over and over in his writing, and something I didn’t really comprehend until I lived the experience.

The Professional Level

At the professional level as I started to follow more and more educational blogs, I probably became more and more annoying to my colleagues at school and in my district. I was constantly sharing links about interesting articles from the Blue Skunk blog or weblogg-ed or some other blog. I was/am constantly being asked where I was finding this stuff, which in and of itself has been a great way to spread some knowledge (showing others how to develop their feeds, etc.). Now teachers within my school are starting to use some of the tools I’ve become familiar with and reciprocate the sharing. I don’t think I could have asked for more in terms of professional development and application to my work setting.

The biggest question for me at the professional level is not how we can use other people’s blogs as resources, but rather how can we use blogging ourselves as a resource? I look at my blog and wonder if staff members would find any use in it. I’ve shown it to a couple of staff members, but haven’t truly “shared” it yet. I’m inclined to do so, if only to get feedback, but I’d like to let it evolve a bit more.

Blogging for PD to me means that you need to build some sort of community where people are reading your thoughts, commenting on your work and sharing back. I don’t think I’m really part of this world yet. I’m one of the people reading other people’s blogs and comment, but I’m not a blogger – yet..

Our conversations this week in our discussion group are directly related to the overall concept of blogging. The idea of voice applies to both us as educators and to students as well. Blogs in the classroom can be a great way of creating community, a way for students to establish or find their voice, a way for those that might not have the confidence to speak up to perhaps share some ideas.

Will the average educator engage in this? I think if I took a survey of this right now, the teachers on my staff would laugh at me – and they are relatively progressive thinkers! The demands being put on teacher that are “lumped” into the area of technology (IPPs, SIRS, teacher logic, homework updates on website, etc.) could make something like this feel like another add on. Sure there would be some who try, but I would expect resistance.

The challenging part then is implementing this with students when teachers don’t necessarily understand the concept. The benefits are obvious (I’ve listed some of these above) but there are challenges as well. Access is a definite issue as is deciding how these will be assessed. Ultimately having been through this process, I would suggest to any educator that they are going to need experience with the tool first in order to understand how to apply it in the classroom in a meaningful way.

New Knowledge

Back to my original metaphor about “time” and wondering what would happen if “time” changed? Here’s a look at a screen shot of my Google reader account:

I’ve subscribed to about 20 or so blogs. The one’s we were asked to subscribe to, my classmates, some personal interest ones and some others that I stumbled across during the course. I definitely subscribed to more/most of these in September and early October as we got into the course. I found the articles interesting (of course) and daily would log in to my Google reader account to check things out. Then things began to change for me – time moved for me, so to speak.

Perhaps because there is only so much time in the day or only so much room in my brain, or because one simply can’t be using all of these tools all of the time, my patterns began to shift. As I built my iGoogle account (see first screen shot) my usage of Google reader diminished. While Google reader was still obviously running in the background to feed my iGoogle page, I stopped visiting Google reader regularly. Now the info I wanted or used from the blogs was coming at me through both my iGoogle account as well as linked directly to my own blog. This was a fundamental shift for me, but it was nothing compared to what Twitter did to my usage patterns.

As I began using Twitter, my feeds were now coming at me directly and live in a lot of ways “previewed”. Someone like @courasa or @mastermaq would retweet something from Scott McLeod or Ross Todd and I could immediately follow that link. So not only was it immediate, I had along with it a 140 character or less review of the new blog posting:

As you can see, within a 10 minute span I received two really interesting links from Joyce Valenza. Multiple this by the number of people I’m following and I have more than enough information to sift through.

The difficult aspect of this is the randomness of it all. Interspersed amongst the good information is someone telling me what the sunset is like, or what they are eating for dinner. I don’t necessarily have this problem when I’m only reading blogs and not the minutia leading me to the blogs.

With that in mind, my reading for this portion of the course turn from investigating blogs and RSS feeds, to wondering about the future of these applications and how change was going to affect them. I wondered what would happen if teachers spent months learning and integrating a new tool (new to them at least) like Google reader into their classroom only to have it become obsolete before they really got into it. I know one of the librarians in our district lamented to me recently that she teaches an information processing course and can’t get the students to email in their assignments. I told her that students don’t use email and she couldn’t believe that, nor could she believe that she had invested considerable time designing a course that appealed to 21st Century learners, only to find that she was still a year and half behind!

Simon Mackie of Web Worker Daily says, “Personally, I still think that RSS readers are useful, but I know that I don’t check mine as religiously as I used to (maybe just once per day in the morning), as I know that I’ll discover anything really important through Twitter.”

Dawn Foster found much the same thing. That “people working in the technology industry who once used RSS readers but had mostly abandoned them in favor of using Twitter to find news and interesting blog posts.”

And here Robert Scoble provides his top 8 reasons why he don’t use Google reader anymore.

Each of these are interesting points and support the same type of feeling I was having around RSS readers and finding information. The difficulty right now I think is that RSS Readers allow a level of organization that Twitter does not. RSS readers provide a much better interface for returning to interesting content. As Twitter develops its “list” function this may change, but for now I know I can count on Google reader being more organized compared to Twitter’s randomness. However, if I subscribe to the notion that the web is a self-organizing place, I have to believe that at some point these tools will ultimately integrate themselves into one another in a way that will be helpful to me.

So, like my misplaced watch, RSS feeds started in one place for me and ended up in another. This will be a challenge for teachers, teacher-librarians and administrators as the pressure to use technology meets the reality of that same technology changing on us even as we are using the tool.


Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

McRae, P. (2007). Interculture collaborative inquiry on the Internet: Epistemological humility in a global era. University of Alberta.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

The Vinegar of the Internet?

Reflections on Learning

My wife tells me that vinegar can do just about anything. And if you do the research, you’ll find out she’s right. In fact, if I told you that I actually had vinegar write this post for me, you’d have a tough time arguing that contention. Vinegar is simply amazing.

When the ancient Egyptians were using vinegar, I’m fairly certain they didn’t think that they could use it to put on their automobile windshields at night so that they weren’t frosted over in the morning. Nor did ancient Chinese cultures think that vinegar was the best for getting out ketchup stains or stopping lint from sticking to their laundry.

There are plenty of other examples of products starting out as one thing and ending up as another. Coca-Cola was originally intended as a patent medicine designed to cure many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. Post-it notes were the result of a failed attempt by a 3M scientist to create a glue with an unbreakable bond.

And so it is with Twitter. Originally designed as a micro-blogging application, Twitter, like vinegar, has been morphed and manipulated by the users (rather than the developers) into a tool that does things the inventors never imagined. The analogy might not extend too far beyond that though as I can see that Twitter, like vinegar has many uses, yet I’m not entirely convinced that Twitter is as useful as vinegar.

I’m going to take a bit of a different approach to this blog entry. I’ll discuss briefly the personal and professional implications, but mostly I’d like to focus on some of these “other” uses I stumbled across as I learned about this application and how this impacts me and potentially the classroom.

The Personal Level

I’ve mentioned in other postings that I was and probably remain a bit of anti-facebook person. For whatever reason though, I was using Twitter fairly early on. I first discovered it as a way of getting real-time information about baseball’s spring training. Reporters would cover games that weren’t being broadcast and tweet what was happening. They would provide the latest rumours about free agent signings and provide links to other stories. This was interesting to me not necessarily because I’m a baseball nut (I’m not) but more because I’ve taken an interest in seeing how teams are constructed. The pre and off-seasons of sports allow for a fairly public view of how this happens and Twitter, I discovered, allowed me to get information faster than ever before. Since that time, as is the nature of the Internet, new applications like CoverItLive, have replaced Twitter coverage somewhat.

As a personal tool, I can’t say that I’ve found much use in it. It’s nice that my brother-in-law posts the odd photo so we can see how the nieces and nephew are doing, but there are other ways for him to share this info too. I’m a little leery about using Twitter in this way (see Twitgoo below) and I’m not too interested in sharing mundane things about my life with “whoever”.

The Professional Level

I gave a presentation the other day to some of our 4th year ed students at the local college. It’s actually a satellite program of the U of A and they were looking at how they might use Web 2.0 in elementary social studies classrooms. The prof knew I was taking this course and asked me to share some thoughts. I talked with them about many of the applications we’ve looked at in this course, but my biggest point of emphasis was on Twitter. The reason for this was not necessarily because I felt they could use this as a tool in the classroom, but because I’ve found Twitter to be an incredible resource for reading. And even though Twitter itself is a bit “stream-of-consciousness”, it provides these connections to fascinating reading that allows one to grow as a professional.

One might argue that Google Reader can provide you with the same sort of access to excellent articles, and I have enjoyed my subscriptions, but Twitter is full of some great surprises (as long as you follow the right people!)

At this point, as a classroom application, I think Twitter is fairly limited. In lots of ways it’s far too “open” to use in the classroom. At any moment any kind of word, inappropriate or otherwise, or any kind of link can show up taking any element of control out of this for the classroom teacher. Micro-blogging, unlike blogging, makes it difficult to take things back. Students are less inclined to think, edit, etc. their 140 or fewer characters post, as compared to writing and editing their blog post before publishing. Even then, a blog post can be edited and tweaked, whereas a Tweet is out there, forever. A student that writes something inappropriate will have no opportunity for recovery. In yesterday's newspaper, it was noted that just this sort of thing happened. Chief of Staff for the Wildrose Alliance (Stephen Carter) mocked premier Ed Stelmach's speaking style and was later made to retract his comments.

This is not to say I didn’t come across some interesting ideas about how to use Twitter. Will Richardson talks about the New Jersey teacher that uses Twitter as a way for students to micro-blog (journal) what they see on a field trip. Or the teacher that uses Twitter as essentially a way to replace Senteo devices in the classroom. Students can tweet their responses to instructor questions and teachers can get immediate feedback on student understanding. This works of course only if students have immediate access to user stations or cell phones which of course is often a whole other debate.

In fact looking for ways that I might choose to use this service with my class proved to be difficult. Even when authors such as Laura Walker suggest using Twitter in schools, they are really talking about professional development and not student use. Of Walker’s list of “9 reasons to start using Twitter in schools” eight are clearly functions of PD. Only writing concisely (140 characters or less) could directly apply to students.

On the professional development side, I’ve already hinted how I think Twitter can be useful. One of the more fascinating things that I read was in the Time article about #hackedu. This “Twitter conference” that began with 30 or so people in room and grew into a meeting of the minds around the world was simply astonishing and another example of how Twitter, like vinegar, has been morphed by its users.

New Knowledge

The obvious thing that stands out about Twitter and what likely speaks to its appeal is that it is a very good marketing and self promotion tool. This makes it very appealing to business people and entrepreneurs and will likely eventually be the economic engine that sustains Twitter. I could get into the annoying, mundane aspects of Twitter (I don’t need to know that Mack Male is sleeping – although I understands why he does this) but for this post I want to focus on interesting and positive (mostly) aspects of Twitter.

Twitter is also obviously a very useful tool in terms of immediacy of information. For this reason it can serve as a news reporting service of events as they unfold, or for getting real-time updates of traffic or for communication in the event of emergencies. Interestingly, this last point is sold in many of the articles you read about Twitter, but given the number of times over the past couple of months that I’ve noticed Twitter to be over capacity, I wonder how its servers would hold up in a real emergency situation? I recall not being able to get information from places like on 9/11 due to Internet traffic issues.

As technologies seem to merge, the idea and reality of multiple interfaces is something else that will help to sustain Twitter. I no longer have to be at my computer to read information, to give and get updates, it’s right there on my cell phone. This, along with the integrated nature of Twitter with blogs, facebook and just about every website out there, it makes it so pervasive. The fact that I can link my “tweets” to my blog so easily makes this a useful feature.

In an information culture, we want the most up to date information possible. Where else to get the most “trending” information than from a place like Twitter that actually compiles what is trending? I can now be “up-to-the-nano-second-cool”! How else would I have stumbled upon this. Related to this, Twitter seems to be a great tool for asking questions and getting immediate (and diverse) answers. Forums obviously have their purpose, but if you don’t want to wait around for a reply, ask your question in the twitterverse.

I’m aware that other social networking applications have other tools designed to enhance their usage, however, I think Twitter has a leg up here (thus the vinegar analogy) that is unique. Many of the apps for things like facebook to me seem like distractions, whereas the ones developed for Twitter seem to be based more on functionality. Below is a list that is no where near exhaustive. Just the ones I stumbled upon and tried during the last couple of months. Mindboggling in lots of cases:

Twitgoo – I can’t even remember what I did to use this service. In all of the things I tried, this was perhaps the second creepiest! I tried to upload a photo through Twitter and my PhotoBucket site. I did something (again, I don’t remember what) and suddenly a picture of my daughter was in “twitgoo”. I could see it, and below was a counter of how many times the picture had been viewed by other twitter users. Within seconds, 30-45-60-100 people had viewed this picture of my daughter and then, as other pictures were added, my daughter’s photo moved down the scroll and suddenly was gone and there were no more views. This blew my mind, because first of all I didn’t intend to post this picture in this way (I didn’t know the service existed) and secondly there was no way for me to stop it from happening.

Twitterlocal, twellow – thanks to @mastermaq and his elluminate presentation for sharing this information with us. These tools have been fascinating, particularly in light of Mack Male’s suggestion that you follow local users. Twitterlocal (I have it sitting on my desktop right now) shows tweets from anyone who lives within 16 kilometres (or 10 miles) of my IP address. This is somewhat creepy, but it’s definitely allowed me to connect with some people I wouldn’t have found otherwise. This could be an interesting application in the school setting if not for the unpredictable nature of the tweets. One guy, for instance, always uses profanity in his tweets.

A positive example of how this could apply in school is on Thursday morning there was an article in our paper about one of bridges being refurbished and also questions about how City Council was going to fund a new events centre. One alderman is an avid Twitter user posted, “don’t believe the paper, there will be no tax hikes!” From there a real-time debate evolved on Twitter around this issue, with one of the decision makers. This would have been great for grade 6 students to see.

Hash tags – again thanks to Mastermaq for helping me to understand these as it has changed how I use Twitter and how I search for things on this service. This is another prime example of how the web becomes almost self-organizing. The hash tags have allowed me to truly access the most current information on the topics I’m interested in and more specifically have directed me towards other people I want to follow.

#FollowFriday – these little events that seem to happen in the “Twitterverse” are things I’m still trying to understand. Even though it was suggested elsewhere that Twitter can help us become more concise writers, I think it actually encourages us to be more slangy or even more coded writers. In a lot of ways tweets have developed into another language and you need to be able to decode it to understand it.

Qik – I picked this up from @courasa. Got to watch two minutes of video of him watching the luggage return area at what I think was Pearson International. Weird. Voyeurism perhaps, but the potential of this is really interesting. Being able to communicate with others (friends, experts or otherwise), truly see what they are seeing is fascinating. There are some obvious drawbacks or concerns with this as well, but used responsibly this could be a great tool.

Retweeting – at first I didn’t get this, but soon after following this for a bit, you can grasp the potential of RT. Word can spread infinitely and quickly through retweeting. I find something interesting and tweet it to my 15 followers, who in turn RT to the 300 of their followers who RT to 30000 of their followers. Information can be pervasive almost instantly.

Uber twitter – I mentioned that twitgoo had creepy factor #2, well for me this is #1. It surprises me how many Twitter users use and share this information. Essentially giving away their global position through their Twitter account. When I can see that someone is tweeting from 1201 Southview Dr. SE in Medicine Hat, AB, Canada, I think this is creepy and in some ways irresponsible. If we are teaching kids about online safety, this service has to be at the top of the list. There are other tools that are similar to this like or that allow you to get a perspective of the global nature of Twitter without the safety element issue.

Tweet Deck – Twitter has obviously spawned many platform applications. I downloaded and tried tweetdeck and it really helped me to better understand how to use Twitter and probably made me a more efficient user. From being able to easily use services like to being able to organize my followers, this proved to be a great tool. On the flip side, it was a bit of a resource hog and something you probably couldn’t install on school computers.

Mr. Tweet – I found this through Joyce Valenza’s blog and have just recently subscribed to it so I don’t have much experience with it yet. From what I can understand, Mr. Tweet will provide me with suggestions of people to follow based on the people I currently follow. It will also suggest me to others if we share the same interests. Dr. Valenza has found it helpful, so I hope I do as well!

So, maybe I could coin my own term and get it out there. How about #twinegar? Think it will take off? In the end, I’ve found #twinegar to be 3 parts useful, 3 parts strange and mundane, 1 part creepy, and 10 parts interesting. I look forward to using this tool more and thinking of how I can embed it into my school usage. For now it will likely remain a tool that has served as a very good PD tool and one where I am more of a lurker than a content generator.


Canadian Press, (Nov. 21, 2009). Wildrose in twitter trouble, The Medicine Hat News.

Krishnamurthy, B., Gill, P. & Arlitt, M. (2008). A few chirps about twitter, WOSN ’08. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2009 from

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Walker, L. (2009). Nine reasons to twitter in schools, Tech & Learning. Retrieved Nov 18, 2009 from,8599,1902604-1,00.html

Hey Bookface!

Reflections on Learning

I’m not sure if any of you are avid “The Office” viewers, but you had to get a laugh out of Jim’s hallowe’en costume. The best part was the character in the warehouse scene that was trying to figure out what Jim was dressed up as and called him “Bookface”.

In a lot of ways I think I missed the Facebook wave. I think if I had been in university at the time when Facebook took off as a university based tool, I think I would be more into it. I think if I had been an earlier adopter, I might use it more. As it were, I ended up being known amongst my friends, family, students, players as the anti-facebook guy. So when I joined Facebook this fall, people who found me were in a state of shock. So obviously there was a bit of bias here for me from the start.

As I made my way through the trailfire this week I was desperately looking for that hook that would make me better appreciate this tool (I may have found something I’ll discuss on the professional level section below) and found that I really struggled to do so. The CommonCraft talks about the potential of social networks (or as the Harvard Review article called them, “the telephone on steroids”) to uncover potential opportunities and I can understand this thinking, but at the same time for me it’s too naked of an experience to be worthwhile.

The Personal Level

I think at some point social networking is going to have some sort of connection to your personality. I’m not the kind of person to put the lamp shade on my head at the party, I’ll listen a lot before I respond, I like to ruminate. The notion of “putting myself out there” in hopes of making potential connections seems akin to running through the streets naked hoping to get a dance partner. I just don’t need that kind of attention.

Obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but I think there are some real perils with being so “open” on Facebook. Mack Male may advocate for this in the elluminate session we listened to, but I think we have some professional responsibilities that can potentially restrict how we interact on line. School district’s (ours is Policy 561) are developing policy that governs and restricts how teachers should interact with their online world. In some ways, we are strongly encouraged to be safe rather than sorry.

With this as my background, I did give Facebook a try. I have 19 or so friends, I shared some photos, posted status, wrote on people’s walls. In the end, I simply didn’t find this to be useful for me, mostly I think, because I was so cautious with it as a tool. To explore this more I turned to my wife (who has been using Facebook for quite some time) to better understand the appeal. I asked her what her top three usages of Facebook were:

1. A quick form of email – her and her friends arrange everything from play dates to golf league team line ups through their Facebook email.
2. A way of sharing photos – we have family all over the place, so this has been a great and easy way of sharing photos. I can see how this is much more valuable/easy than just using a photosharing site.
3. Local groups – things like “Garage Sale Medicine Hat” have been a boon to those looking for good deals or looking to get rid of things in a hurry. I have to admit I can believe how quickly you can sell a couch on Facebook!

The Professional Level

This week’s reflection on learning is actually one mostly of regret. While I did set up a Facebook account back in August I also set up a Ning. I played with Facebook, but my Ning just kind of sat there, mostly because even though I set one up, I simply didn’t understand it.

As I did the reading this week and followed the trailfire, I became more and more interested in the concept of Nings. I realize that they are essentially the same thing as Facebook, but the interesting thing is about how much easier they are to control. I can definitely see the appeal of setting up a class Ning to build a sense of community. Knowing that it was monitored, protected and had ground rules could make this a very effective classroom tool.

The difficulty with Nings though I think is that they require time and patience. Whereas Facebook has millions of users out there and dozens of people just waiting to be your friend, the Ning starts at nothing. And even though you have a captive audience (a class) waiting to join, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to readily adopt this tool as one of their primary ways of sharing.

If I could start over, I could think of ways to build a ning from the start of the semester that could have given me something more valuable to relate to. If there was a suggestion I would make to future students of this class, it would be to do some reading, exploring of this tool earlier rather than later.

New Knowledge

I know that social media is here to stay and I know that Facebook is not simply some fad that is going to die. Individuals will make choices about how they choose to exist and project themselves online and think it is here that schools will have the largest responsibilities. The ethics of being an online learner, online entity will be most crucial and we have many things left to consider:

1. Child usage of social networks. The Abrams article talks about things like ClubPenquin and Webkinz. Are we simply producing apprentice Facebook junkies or is there an opportunity here for parents/teachers to start informing children about decisions made online? Abrams points out that we could embed this directly into the curriculum and uses the example of what would you share with your grandma vs. what would you share with a stranger.
2. The blurring of lines between the real and the virtual. While I didn’t explore Second Life during this course, the idea of this virtual world where land is being sold and economies being created is extremely fascinating and disturbing all at once.
3. Teaching of online responsibility – as schools and school districts we have to be carefully to not swing the pendulum too far in one direction (ie. Blocking everything the Internet has to offer). Meaningful learning is going to happen in real time as children and teachers interact with tools and applications. We know that people are simply going to find ways around the block anyhow.
4. Finally, thoughtful debate. Hamel’s article tends to paint Web 2.0 as some panacea of hope. That it will be a place where “all ideas have equal footing” and that workers of the future will expect the workplace to reflect their online worlds. I think this is open for debate. It would be na├»ve to think that all ideas have equal footing on the internet, simply because not everyone has equal access. And even if we did have equal access, we don’t have equal skills. Ask any viral marketer about techniques to get people to adopt ideas, it’s not necessarily the idea that has to be the best, it’s sometimes (still) the marketer behind it.


Abram, S. (Mar/Apr 2008). Scaffolding the new social literacies. Multimedia and Internet @ Schools.

Armstrong, S. & Warlick, D. (2004). Tech & Learning. Retrieved from:

Boyd, D. (2009). Social media is here to stay…now what? Microsoft Research Tech Fest, Redmond, CA. – not sure how to reference this (Mack Male’s elluminate recording)

Domo Arigato, Mr. Animoto

Reflections on Learning

Whereas last week I walked into wikis with some background knowledge and some experience, this week I entered the world of multi-media sharing and Animoto and Voicethreads as a complete newbie. One of those ultimate digital immigrants we hear and read about in all of the academic papers.

I’ve made it clear from the start of this course that I have (or had) some prejudices about some of the tools. I was already a fan of wikis and that alone made it easy to explore them; I saw no use for social bookmarking (but have an appreciation for that now) nor did I have much use for Facebook (the jury is still out on that one). However, with Animoto and Voicethreading I had no bias, in fact I had nothing at all. I came at this as an open book.

My thinking at this point in the course is that the good surprises have out-numbered the disappointments and it is because of this that I look forward to trying some new things out each week.

This week’s learning was also a little bit different in that we were really dealing with a couple of specific web-based software applications that were really easy to use. They seem to be the kind of tools that are ready for take off, but aren’t quite there yet. A scan of the research will show you that little work has been done on these two tools/

The Personal Level

After playing with these toys this week, this is the first time I felt that my blog was turning into something more than a list of assignment postings. Maybe it was all the talk this week about Will Richardson’s blogging levels, but I think the playing around with Animoto and Voicethread (I’m going to call it VT) has really added a personal touch to our blogs.

These simple, short little clips begin to give the audience a better picture of who the blogger is. More importantly, the tools were so unbelievably simple to use, that it makes it painless to update. I think I was actually caught off-guard by the simplicity of both Animoto and VT.

Within 10 minutes, using the pictures I previously uploaded to my PhotoBucket account, I was able to create a 30 second video that would leave my friends and family members thinking I had lost my mind spending so much time to make such a production. My kids sat by my computer asking me to replay it over and over and while they are soon turning only 3 and 5 years old, I could see them (with some direction) being able to create some of their own work. What’s even more amazing is that the integrated nature of the Internet not only allowed me to make this video in 10 minutes, but have it posted to my blog, my Facebook page and my twitter account within seconds. Could you imagine being on a vacation and sending photos back home this way?

My original plan for exploring this was quite complex. After looking at a number of the samples in their library, I thought about actually making this entire post a voicethread itself. I was going to find pictures or take pictures and overlay my voice. I had a very complicated plan. Then I thought about just using some pictures off of my computer to narrate, but I don’t have many of those on my school computer. Next, as I was playing with the tool, I double clicked a PowerPoint presentation I use for our meet the teacher night. Instantly, all 10 or 12 slides loaded in as separate pages.

This, as I say in my voicethread, was an “A HA!” moment for me. I saw other postings that used Smart Notebook, but it never occurred to me that this would load so simply. It actually probably took me longer to find a microphone to do the recording than it took me to make the whole voicethread.

The Professional Level

This week I spoke to some of my staff members that are our early adopters. Having seen some of these multimedia tools at workshops, a couple of teachers have used both of these tools in a very limited way. What’s interesting, and a common theme from the beginning of this course, is that both teachers were quickly reminded how “cool” they originally thought these tools were, but how they had forgot about them because they didn’t use them often enough. I think this harkens back to our very first discussion question about where we thought we would all end up after this course. I still stand by the notion that I think we will take from this general knowledge about many things, but that with the things we find most interesting, we will, on our own go a bit deeper and make those tools part of our set of web skills.

For me this tool is a no brainer. My vice principal loses hours of his life each year putting together a PowerPoint presentation for the students at our year end assembly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There are usually technical glitches galore. We will easily earn our $30 worth by purchasing access to full length videos. We’ve also had the idea in the past of looking for ways to better share all of the photos that get taken at a school, an Animoto will help us immensely with this. I can see this little tool spreading quickly to classrooms simply because it is so easy to use.

Armed with my new found knowledge about VT, I look forward to sharing this with staff at our school. I could see how it would be so simple to use this tool to share something like our Meet the Teacher night presentation online so that parents that couldn’t attend could still view it, or to take technical things like new IPP software and make a sort of online manual that others could add to as a kind of visual wiki of sorts.
The classroom possibilities here are great as well. Armed with a Smart document camera, students could produce step-by-step instructions on how to do a science experiment. Our grade two students recently went on a walking field trip to the Art Gallery and took along digital cameras. They snapped hundreds of photos demonstrating symmetry, perspective, contrast and other artistic elements. Imagine now if they put that into a voicethread explaining their thinking or why they choose a certain photo?

New Knowledge

Clearly this was a fun week of exploring and while the research out there was limited, the tools themselves were engaging enough to help me sift through my thoughts. The most interesting article I found on these kinds of “mash ups” came from Keith McPherson. He did a great job of outlining some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a program like Animoto. I’ll highlight some of his discussion points here and supplement these with my own thoughts. If you haven’t already read his article, I’ve included the citation below.

1. Multimodal Learning – students that learn and/or express themselves better through audio or visual means are going to find an easy to use program like this highly beneficial.
2. Engagement – easy appeal to 21st Century learners and easy of use makes it attractive to all kinds of users.
3. On-line Social Skills – easy to share and embed in other web 2.0 tools and provides an opportunity for educators to engage students in a discussion about being responsible online learners.
4. Ethics – links to Creative Commons engages the students in discussion about ownership of pictures, music, etc. and has them consider what it would be like if others starting “mashing up” your “mash ups.”


1. Web-based – could also be an advantage because it means you can access this anywhere. As bandwidth improves, this becomes less of an issue, but as the author points out, you are at the mercy of your software and your connection speed.
2. Cost – could be prohibitive to some schools at $30 per user station or $249 overall. I explored the site and they do offer a free “pro account” to non-profits, but it isn’t clear that k-12 fits into that. They need to do some work here.
3. Newness – The article (written last year) points out that there are not a lot of examples of this technology out there yet and for this reason, there are few examples of how this can best connect to curriculum. This is obviously changing, but the challenge remains for many of the early adopters to be really creative with this tool.
4. In-ability to Fine Tune – there is a certain “canned” feeling to each of the mash ups, but obviously there are some technical limitations to what they can do with a web-based application like this. I disagree with the author here on this point (and the next) in that I think if this gets more complicated it drives away users. Keep it simple and those that really like it will move to more complex desktop programs like Adobe to create more complex productions.
5. The author would like to see more interactivity – see my comments in point #4 above.

I’m excited about the prospects of these two simple tools for my school and look forward to using them both administratively to communicate with families and in the library for things like digital book reviews or having students do a Top-Ten Must Reads mash up.


Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

McPherson, K. (2008). Mashing literacy. Teacher Librarian, 35(5).

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

With info from:

First Voicethread

Meet the Creature Night

Wikis: A Home for Collaborators

Reflections on Learning

I was first introduced to the idea of creating my own wiki(s) in the summer of 2009. Certainly I knew that wikis existed and have used some of the more popular ones like Wikipedia or even the Internet Movie Database a lot over time. But the idea of making my own wiki was something that had not occurred to me.

Our prof for our Masters cohort setup a wiki for our group through wikispaces. For the past two years our class has used this as a place to share ideas, point out new tools, and to discuss our projects. Using this as a springboard, I’ve created wikis for both personal and professional use. I’ll expand on this more in the sections below.

As I have some experience with this tool, I wanted to concentrate my learning this week on seeing how other people use wikis and to see what new tricks I might be able to learn to enhance my own wiki experience. Secondly, I wanted to explore the issues that are fundamental to wikis, perhaps not resolving anything, but definitely finishing the week with a better understanding of the impact of this tool on learning.

The CommonCraft video makes reference to the messiness of email and how wikis can clean this up. One of the interesting things I’ve stumbled across during this course are the many references to Google Wave. I’m not sure if others have seen this as well, but this looks to be a fascinating look at how email and wiki knowledge could be combined.

The Personal Level

On the personal user level, wikis for me have been FUN and have saved me a lot of work! Even in the CommonCraft kind of way! I haven’t used them to plan a camping trip, but have definitely used them as a tool in my personal life. Our rec hockey team needs to keep standings and post schedules and results – we created a wiki for it. Now the league directors can log in and make the changes. Previously, this info would all be sent to me and I would alter the info. Now multiple people can contribute, the workload is spread out and is more current.

Our rec hockey team also keeps a personal website for people to poke fun at one another, share stories, collect funny articles, etc. Again, I used to manage all of this as a traditional website, but now we have set it up as a wiki where anyone on the team can contribute any time they like. It builds a sense of comraderie and at the same time spreads the workload.

I would submit some links here for these wikis, but one of the benefits we’ve taken advantage of with Wikispaces, is in keeping our wikis just for the users. I’ll list them here nevertheless, if only to demonstrate that it is a tool that is in use:

Personal Wikis: (my hockey team) (our hockey league)
Professional Wikis:

The Professional Level

My first foray into using wikis at a professional level began in the fall of 2008. We had just changed how we structured our Student-Led Conferences at our school and I wanted to get feedback on how everyone felt about the changes. Our next staff development day already had a full agenda, so I put forward the idea of having this SL conference discussion on the wiki. We gave it a try, had about 50% participation, I collated the responses and shared them at our next staff meeting. An item that may have taken 25-30 minutes to discuss was covered in 5 minutes. We’ve since used our wiki to discuss other items or as a follow up on discussions that didn’t seem complete.

I’ve since created a wiki for our school district administrators as a place for them to “play” and learn about some of the web2.0 tools. This wiki is in the newest stages of development (we’ll actually be doing a hands on presentation to our admin group on Thursday of this week) so it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

The real interesting uses of wikis I think are classroom based. Hans Huizing is a teacher at Hunting Hills in Red Deer. His Social30-1 wiki is extremely interesting. Again, this is a private wiki, but Hans has let me access it to lurk and learn. Students are posting incredible rants (a la Rick Mercer), having deep discussions on philosophy, and using it as a way to demonstrate their knowledge of current events. Other possibilities are only limited by the student and teacher imagination. A music wiki that allows students to alter music and share music theory, a children driven wiki on everything from the alphabet to bugs, a primary school that uses a wiki to have children teach other children the school rules, an economics wiki that is driven by AP students, and a new video sharing wiki that is designed for educators at

New Knowledge

Where last week I was a bit down on podcasting, this week I am very keen on wikis. I think they are a great tool for collaboration and even though they may be currently underutilized as pointed out by Davies and Merchant (p. 102) I do think they are a tool that will have their day. This is not to say that however, that wikis do not come with some issues attached.

As I explored wikis this week a couple of key questions kept occurring to me. It is here that I would like to focus the attention of this week’s blog. The first thing that occurred to me I’m going to call “stale-dating”.

For me this is when a wiki has not been used enough to show it’s worth. Posts are old, have lost their relevance or there has simply been a lack of participation. Will Richardson talks about this on pg. 62 of his book, but is optimistic that will change and imagines the possibilities if it does change. From my own experience and from exploring the trailfire again this week, he might be a bit overly optimistic. Many of the wikis I explored had some of their last entries in 2008 or even 2006, leaving them looking like an ambitious project that has just been left sitting there.

I’ve experienced this too with my own wikis. A seasonal activity like hockey attracts people at only certain times of the year. They stop visiting this little space on the web and break a habit and suddenly a vibrant place becomes stale. It will pick up again, but will need some nurturing. A separate but related concern/experience is with my school-based wiki. When I created it I envisioned this place where people would contribute and create, posing thought provoking discussions and sharing resources. For the most part, it’s pretty much been driven by me and the last thing I want to create is some top-down, make work project for teachers. I still think this has potential but won’t take off until teachers/users discover intrinsic benefits.

A second major issue surrounding wikis is the notion of authorship. Both Richardson and Davies & Merchant explore this in depth in the texts. Authorship of wikis often flies in the face of traditional referencing particularly in the academic world. The most important lesson however, as Davies & Merchant point out on p. 96 is that using wikis creates an opportunity to teach students about the importance of critically examining all texts that we read carefully. This was highlighted in our class’s online discussion last week, where we all wondered about the authenticity of the web. Rather than lamenting that nothing is trustworthy out there, we have the opportunity and responsibility to teach children to be critical thinkers.

Finally, I might be getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but I found it interesting that many people use Wikipedia as a source for current events and news. The examples cited in the texts on the Tsunami in south east Asia and the London bombings were an angle that I had not thought of previously. What did occur to me was a question. I found myself wondering if a tool like Twitter might eventually surplant this in the realm of “citizen journalism”. An even more instantaneous way of sharing what is happening. More realistically, I’m guessing that twitter will eventually just feed info to the wiki and the tool will be combined.

Finally, finally, I found a very interesting article at
. Here the author highlighted some of the issues of wiki use in all arenas.
They see the wiki as a great way for people to deal with multiple projects and initiatives, but caution that the challenge is in getting people to abandon current habits and integrate the wiki into their daily work. As I’ve mentioned above, this is definitely a common experience in education. What was also very interesting was reading the comments section that followed this article where it was pointed out that in the business world the wiki might be useful in the idea creation phase or brainstorming phase, but as an overall tool for getting the job done, the wiki was found to be lacking.

Taking all of this into account, for me, the wiki still remains a very effective collaboration tool. I too have experienced the fact that the job doesn’t necessarily get done on the wiki, but I can say that wiki does do a good job of getting the job started and creating discussion.


Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Mercer, A. (2008). The wiki website in music education: A new collaborative medium. The Canadian Music Educator, (49)4.

With info from:

Bailey, M. (2009). Classroom 2.0: Technology engages student learning. Education Today, 21(1).

McPherson, K. (2006). Wikis and student writing. Teacher Librarian, 34(2).

Bells & Whistles III

Podcast embedded

Bells & Whistles II

Struggling getting the podcast to work. Here's the link for now. I was enjoying other everyone's podcasts and noticed that I interpreted this assignment quite differently. I hope mine isn't too LAME (get it?)!

Listen to Podcast

Bells & Whistles

Reflections on Learning

I can think of a number of things that I own or use where it seems that I only scratch the surface of their potential. Many of these things are in the realm of electronics or technology. For instance, I know that my PVR (which by the way may have been the greatest invention of the past decade) can recognize my favourite shows and record them for me whenever a new one comes on. I know that my Blackberry can be used as a GPS device and that there are a multitude of “shortcuts” that I have yet to use. I know that the smartboards in our classrooms can be used to take attendance and do our announcements. All of these functions, all of these bells and whistles are things I have yet to explore. Perhaps it’s because of time, perhaps because I’ve tried it once and have forgotten the concept.

The Internet in general and Web 2.0 more specifically are like this for me as well. There seems to me, to be an entire world of add-ons and features that exist out there that I know very little about. In one way this is exciting because there is so much to learn. In another way, it’s intimidating and at times a barrier to entry. Why even try because I’ll never be able to figure it all out?

For me, podcasting is one of these things that I’ve heard lots about, but, for a variety of reasons, have never used it very often. My goal, in this section of the course then, was to learn as much as I could about podcasting and see if it was a tool that I could integrate more into my online existence.

The Personal Level
One of the strangest things that has happened to me as a personal user/learner on the Internet is that more and more of what I do is text based. As a kid I would watch all the sports highlight shows, now I’d rather read about it. If I visit a sports news site or a blog and there is an opportunity to click on video or listen to an interview or podcast, 99 times out of 100, I’m only going to read the text.

With this in mind, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks clicking those links I wouldn’t normally click. Listening and viewing things, I normally would not have listened to or viewed. My conclusion, based on this really simple sample, is that I’m not sold on it. I think this has more to do with my own personal learning style. I owned a walkman once back in the day, I’ve tried to listen to books on tape, my wife has an iPod, but I’ve never used it, I run 30 or 40 km a week and never listen to music.

On the personal level, I’ve actually find myself migrating away from websites that have moved more content from text to audio or video files. I think there are some reasons for this and I’ll explore these more in the final reflection portion. My research this past week thought does indicate that I am probably a dying breed. One that will have to face the reality that more and more content is going to be presented in this way and that I will have to adapt my ways to keep up.

The Professional Level
Will Richardson’s section on podcasts is on the surface another example of this overwhelming barrier to entry. His book is filled with suggestions of radio stations to re-enactments that can help bring the classroom to life. Many teachers however, know very little about using their email properly let alone start manipulating MP3 files in Audacity.

This combined with an ever-expanding curriculum that many of us struggle to complete each year, makes the time constraints of the learning curve even more daunting. I think ultimately, it is this barrier, TIME, that is the number one factor in making people slow or non-adopters of new technologies. It probably also speaks to my apprehension (or maybe it’s laziness) in investing a pile of time in creating a podcast, when I could write it down or explain it in person a lot easier?

At some point though, I have to challenge my own bias. The easiest way for me to do this is to break it down into more easily manageable entry points. I’ll refer to these in each of the following sections.

Just to show that I’m not just some teacher opposed to change, in the early 2000’s my grade 5 class scripted, acted, filmed, edited, produced and published online 6 videos of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. One group, chosen by the class, acted and filmed the raw footage. We then partnered with a nearby high school CTS lab where 6 groups of students each manipulated the raw footage into their own 3 to 5 minute “commercial." Each commercial was to be based upon the Canadian history vignettes on and on television. The end result was outstanding (I have them on DVD somewhere and will try to upload one to my blog). The flip side of this was the time commitment. We spent weeks (if not more) on this and while I can justify all of it as being linked to the curriculum, I did feel that I was crunched for time in other areas.

The key to success of ideas like podcasting will be in how we can integrate into the other things we are doing and how we can use it to enhance children’s learning. Todd Diakow is Technology Lead teacher in the Lethbridge area and he offers a presentation on “Do I Have to Write Another Essay?” This speaks to the notion that many students learn in different ways and that podcasting might be a way to allow students who are more verbal an opportunity to better express themselves.

A final driver of this for teachers will be how they are able to incorporate this into a routine. Doing a podcast for the sake of doing a podcast is not something that works at my school. There needs to be a meaning behind it and a reason for existence. There also needs to be an opportunity to try something more than once to better learn the tool and to improve on previous work.

One of the real benefits of this course for me has been the ability to find ides that I can incorporate into our schools library. I “stole” the idea of the video book review from another librarian when we did the video-casting segment. This week, I really enjoyed listening to the students in the “Good Master’s! Sweet Ladies! readings. I definitely want to do something like this to promote reading with our students.

I’ve toyed too, with the idea of doing our morning announcements through our school’s website. Teachers could turn on their smartboards, click a link that plays the national anthem and listen to any announcements for the morning. If anything this will be a fun project, however, I wonder about it’s longevity? Theory is one thing, getting people to hand in announcements on time to produce a podcast is another!

As always, the biggest implications here are for students. Ultimately, the success of these and similar tools is going to rest on the ability of schools to build on prior learning. A grade seven teacher is going to have an easier time integrating podcasts in the classroom if students come to it with experience. If teachers feel that they are constantly re-teaching they will likely avoid the idea all together.

A second consideration is the technology itself. In clicking through many of the links of the Education Podcast Network I saw a lot of material dated from 2006, 2007 and 2008. I was left wondering if podcasting had suffered a bit from the fad effect. It became popular for quite some time, but people have moved on to other tools. I don’t necessarily have anything quantifiable to back this up, but just a pattern I noted.

Reliability is another concern here. I was unable to listen to many of the podcasts I came across. Sometimes these were software glitches, sometimes links had expired. One the trailfire websites for instance (EdTechTalk) never did work for me. We’ve all been to those PD sessions where the technology failed and we were left frustrated and the presented was left flustered. I am nervous about that with our students because it seems that as we move into some of these tools, the potential for glitches is magnified.

New Knowledge

My tone this week has obviously been a bit negative with regard to podcasts. While I do want to explore this more, I still have some concerns about the cost/benefits in terms of time.

Having said that, I know that I have knowledge this week that I did not have before, so clearly there must be value in this. If you check out the link you can find some very good links to screencasts which are pretty much the same as a podcast. In the most recent one, Shaun LeBleu does a great job of showing teachers how students can “sign in” using the smartboard. A unique touch, done in about 10 mintues. Clearly he put some work into putting this together and those watching received some real benefit. But is everyone willing to do the same?

For me, I obviously need to spend more time playing with this tool to either better understand it and refute my bias or secondly to be able to provide an educated perspective on what I perceive to be the limitations of podcasting.


Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Without info from:

An Acquired Taste

Reflections on Learning
I have a colleague that I’ve coached volleyball with and against over the years and seemingly in a previous life. He and I have joked about putting in an entry for the reality show “The Amazing Race”. Each of us would bring our own set of skills that would match up well to the challenges on the show. My colleague’s skill is one I definitely do not possess, but one that is absolutely essential to success on this show: The ability to try eating anything (at least once).

In a previous, previous life I was a golf pro. I was at the CPGA buying show in Banff and someone ordered a meat platter for our group. It had everything from venison to wild boar pate. I like meat, but I starved that night, because I couldn’t look at the platter let alone eat it.

As I approached social bookmarking, I was nervous that my picky eating habits were going to kick in. I’ve looked at sites like in the past and from what I could see on the surface level it seemed, well…lame. Joanne’s words in her discussion post about social bookmarking seemed to reconfirm this for me.

I responded to her post by thanking her for making me not feel guilty for not liking a tool (is that a double negative?). My goal, as I stated in my post, was to give it a try, but I didn’t expect that I’d like it or find any value in it.

While it is early (I’ll explain what I mean by this later) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this tool. I’m committed to using social bookmarking through the timeframe of the course and I don’t think I would be surprised to use it beyond that as well.

The Personal Level
On the personal level, I’ve never been a big user of bookmarks. It isn’t necessarily the way that I personally navigate the Internet. I tend to have a lot of sites that I visit regularly, but most of them I simply know the URL and go directly to it. Every once in a while I will stumble across something I like or search for something specific and add it to my “favourites”. Not necessarily because it is a favourite, but rather because I don’t have time to read it right now and I want to come back to it later. Often times, if the thing I find is in a pdf format, I’ll simply save the file to my hard drive.

What I have noticed is that when I do look at my favourites, two things stand out. First of all, they are very disorganized because no thought has gone in to putting them there in the first place. They are generally there chronologically and for the most part haven’t been looked at in a long time. The second thing I notice is that for about a quarter of the bookmarks, I can’t remember why I saved the site in the first place. Some favourite that is!

Exploring delicious allowed me to revisit (and delete in many cases) each of the websites I had bookmarked on my computer. The tagging process and the refining of tagging was interesting (I’ll touch on that more at the end). What was really interesting for me was the addition of the tag button to my toolbar. I tried to make a point this week of tagging sites I visited (personal and professional) to just get in the habit of tagging, bookmarking and cataloguing. One can easily be surprised by the eclectic nature of their bookmarks.

I mentioned earlier that I’m in the early stages of this. I’m most interested to see what this looks like at Christmas time and whether or not it will be a habit for me and ultimately something that I rely on (perhaps the true measure of any good tool).

The Professional Level
Reading chapter 6 in Will Richardson’s book made me wish that I had explored Diigo rather than delicious as it seemed to have enough unique twists to make it worthwhile in and of itself. However, my goal going into this was to go deep with a tool rather than skim the surface of a bunch. I know there are trade offs to this and that I will likely have to come back some day to check out some missed tools.

Richardson is very big on creating a community of researchers and I think this could apply to teachers, librarians and students. I’d like to break my discussion down into those three categories.

From professional development to using it as a teaching tool or as a way to start having students think about referencing, social bookmarking should be an important classroom tool for teachers. Teachers can collaborate on projects with one another, set up networks within school departments, within school districts or around the globe (ie. The benefit being that they can quickly tap in to resources that other people have found useful.

Social bookmarking is particularly useful for reference librarians. Funk (2009) notes that some reference departments maintain a network of Delicious accounts. This allows their reference librarians to see each other’s collections easily. In fact some writers are pointing out that it is librarians who are really taking charge when it comes to social bookmarking. Stephens (2007) says that many libraries are establishing protocols and encouraging others to get involved in tagging collections. There are obviously drawbacks to this. Librarians have long established protocols for how to catalogue books and much if not most of what you will find on social bookmarking sites is far from protocol. The Dewey Decimal system it is not! However, this does not mean that librarians, at the local level, cannot take charge of their own networks. It is exciting to see that many have.

I can think of many ways that this would be a useful tool for students. As Fontichiaro (2008) notes, many students have a difficult time keeping track of where they have been on the web and where they retrieved information. A social bookmarking habit would allow them to easily keep track of their sites. These could then be easily viewed and evaluated by the classroom teacher. If criteria were setup regarding references or visiting sites, students could easily demonstrate that they have done this. I like Richardson’s idea in chapter 6 of having students simply put their name or a code in their tags to link their bookmarks together and give the teacher a sense of how well the students have done.

From a collaborative point of view, a group of students can establish a network whereby they can share the research they have found. Since this information is all shared in a web-based setting, students can then work on this information from any user station in the school, from home or elsewhere.

New Knowledge
Much of the writing in the articles I researched, the ones provided to us in the readings and on the trailfire highlighted many of the same benefits. Social bookmarks allow you a web-based system of organizing your bookmarks. You can access them from any computer, you can share them with friends, you can use key words or tag to search for websites that other people deemed interesting. Ultimately, it is supposed that this could provide better information because it is a human rating the site rather than some bot (Richardson, 2009).

In contrast to this, others feel that this might not necessarily be a benefit at all. The problem with folksonomies being that not all “folks” are necessarily equipped to properly catalogue websites or books for that matter and one could end up with a mess of information and poorly chosen key words (Bates, 2006). Add to this, simple errors such as spelling mistakes and controlling singular/plural words (Rethlefsen, 2007) or more malicious problems such as spam (Bates, 2006) and you might end up with a series of tags that are not all that useful.

Interestingly, once I tagged all of my bookmarks, I actually went back and edited many of my tags. I found that I used words like “tool” and “tools” almost interchangeably, when I meant the same thing. Seeing each of my tags appear in my cloud tag on my blog, allowed me to focus in on redundant tags and clean up my own labeling system. My guess is that the more time I spend working on this the better I will get at it. I’m also predicting that I’ll start to notice what key words others are using for tags and mimic this.

So far, wild boar pate it is not. I’ve had a taste, a nibble if you will, this past week and have enjoyed it enough to order some more. I’ll keep you posted on whether it becomes an acquired taste, a mainstay of my diet or something that was simply a passing treat.

Bates, M.E. (2006). Tag- you're it! Online, 30(1), 64.

Fontichiaro, K. (2008). Using social bookmarking to organize the web. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(9), 27.

Funk, M.E. (2009). Testing the web 2.0 waters. American Libraries, 40 (1/2) 48.
Rethlefsen, M.L. (2007). Tags make libraries Library Journal. Retrieved 10/02/09 from ProQuest Journals,

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Stephens, M. (2007). Tagging & social bookmarking. Library Technology Reports, 43(5), 58.

With info from:

Video Killed the Radio Star...

Reflections on Learning
I caught a snake in my backyard the other day. A tiny little garter snake, about 12 inches long and about as thick as a pencil. I know there is another, larger one around too, because I found the skin it left behind along the foundation of my house. You should know that I am both fascinated by these slithery creatures and terrified of them. I was completely freaked out by this thing, yet once I caught it (in a large steel garbage can) and knew that I was in control, the snake became more interesting to look at.

Last night I was thinking of how this is a lot like social networking. It’s like letting a snake into your backyard. Some of us are terrified of it and some of us are fascinated by it. Some of us are even tempted by it.

Metaphorically, YouTube itself might be seen as some evil copyright-breaking snake that slithers around the Internet doing pretty much as it pleases. Ironically, however, the snake here is the “masses”. It is all of us who contribute and download and share that create snake. Come to think of it, from the “snake’s” perspective, it probably doesn’t feel like it is doing much wrong.

If I reflect on my beginning uses of YouTube or any other video sharing service, I would say that it was primarily for humour. Whether it was showing someone a funny skit from a TV show or a blooper or a video that someone had emailed to me, my video watching, in the beginning, was probably about 90% humour-based. It was kind of like having access to your own 24 hour funniest home video channel. If you haven't seen this one, well...

And if you haven't ever visited ImprovEverywhere you are missing out.

As I became a more savvy user of this tool, I discovered many other ways that video sharing could be useful. I will highlight these in the following sections.

The Personal Level
For me, the most mind-boggling aspect of the Internet in general and video sharing in particular is that a user can find pretty much anything they want to look for. On the surface, this is very convenient. I want to know how to lay hardwood in my living room, I can go to any number of sites both commercial and otherwise and watch someone else give me a do-it-yourself lesson. Much more significant here, is that someone has taken a serious amount of time to script, film, edit and produce the video that I’m looking at. In many cases, there is seemingly no monetary reward for these videos, which makes it even more fascinating that someone would take the time to do all of this work.

This has had a significant impact on people’s lives. If I want to find Elmo singing a song about “going to the potty” for my 2 year old son to watch, it’s right here (along with some nasty versions too!). If I want to learn how to change the brake fluid in my truck, it’s right here. If I want to figure out how to tune up my bicycle, I can find it here .

This last one is of particular interest to me because it’s isn’t YouTube based. It’s a meeting place for people that want to share their expertise with others. As with many other applications, you get greater access if you pay (and in this case share) but the free stuff can be extremely valuable to individuals. And while this is not an education site, the crossovers are obvious. Students/teachers would be able to find unique ideas here to use in their classroom and at the same time they could take their own unique projects, upload and share them.

The Professional Level
As I began to explore the trail fire laid out for us, the one thing that occurred to me is that we are really in the infancy of understanding how to use video and video sharing. The “weekly” updates provided Allen County Public Libraries were informative, and the ideas presented at the NetSpeed conference were interesting, but in the end I’m left with the feeling that this is a lot of work for people to be doing to promote themselves with no real guarantee of any return. From the perspective of an elementary school principal/librarian, I would have a tough time spending time/resources on this kind of work when there is so many other things to do.

I do appreciate however, that the needs of institutions vary and that these are viable forms of promotion for those with larger audiences. For me, the focus has to be on getting the tools into the hands of students. Sure, I have to model these things, but my school’s philosophy is that the students need to be using the technology. So, with that in mind, the trailfire link that I found most interesting was the one about flip cameras. I actually played around with a similar idea a couple of years ago (stole it from Ian Jukes) that I would carry around a Flip video camera and capture video of students doing good things and play it at our weekly assemblies. A great idea really, sadly however, the realities of work were captured well ahead of any student video. I’ll make a private commitment to revisit this. The application mentioned in the article however is something that fits with my belief that the tools need to be in the hands of students. I’m going to develop a challenge based on this and get my grade 5 students to do video book reviews to post on our school website. Great idea Jennifer Wooten!

I wanted to also comment briefly on some of the other tools available to us. YouTube and TeacherTube have become standard tools for teachers in our classrooms. Each of our classrooms are equipped with projectors, smartboards, surround sound, which makes it easy for teachers to utilize resources that they find (as long as the lousy desktops we have attached to these peripherals doesn’t fail – sorry, editorial comment). Another resource that we use extensively is UnitedStreaming. This is a service that our District pays to access and it provides us with thousands of licensed videos that teacher may use in their classroom. As a rule, our teachers will look here first to see if they can get a licensed version before they look elsewhere.

YouTube’s obvious advantage is its quick access and ease of use (Mullen, 2008). Teachers (and students, if they have access) can quickly get dozens of results for most anything they are looking for and then organize these into folders for later use or embed them into other software (Smart Notebook for example).

Using the Flip Video Camera as a jumping off point and the idea of getting the tools into students’ hands, I searched for articles that focused on student involvement. As Gentry (2008) argues, many of the examples that are out there now serve mainly as viewing resources rather than resources that act as tools for students. What is exciting is that just as technology evolves quickly, the applications and uses of it in the classroom will evolve as well. I look forward to learning more about this as the course progresses.

An interesting side note to all of this is that in 2007, as a high school assistant principal, we dealt with a fighting issue at some our schools through video sharing. Students were fighting and then posting these fights on to the web. We’d find the fights (rather easily) and deal with the red-handed (and red-faced) combatants. I won't link to those...

New Knowledge
The notion of Creative Commons is a relatively new one to me and seeing as how I missed this in the photosharing activity, I wanted to explore that a bit more here. One of the interesting things I stumbled upon here would allow YouTube users to access material that meets copyright requirements more easily. What’s interesting to me is that this really creates a streamlining of sharing. Users, as they upload material, can essentially provide unlimited access to other users. In the long run this might avoid many legal hassles or concerns for schools.

Finally, one of the more fascinating developments is that of websites like HULU. Here, users can download just about any television show that exists (as long as they live in the United States). While I’m certain it won’t be long before we’ll be able to access a service like this in Canada, I think it is also interesting that more and more things like this that used to be underground or pirated are becoming mainstream and legal.

What might have more consequence for educators are applications like this. This Calgary based company allows you to download television shows, instructional videos, etc. to your iPhone or Blackberry to take with you anywhere. The kneejerk reaction for schools will be to block this kind of thing, what will be interesting are those educators that will be able to see this as a tool and take advantage of it.

In case you were wondering about what happened to the snake, well my kids and I looked at it for a bit and then eventually released it into the wild behind our house. A couple of days later he/she/it was back (or another one just like the first one). I didn't catch it this time, although I did chase it around for a bit. I'm guessing we'll probably have to get used to living with these creatures, metaphorically or otherwise.

Gentry, J. (2009). Using youtube: Practical applications for 21st Century education. Distance Education Report, 13(7).

Mullen, R. & Wedwick, L. (2008). Avoiding the digital abyss: Getting started in the classroom with youtube, digital stories and blogs. Clearing House 82(2).