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.

References

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

http://www.slideshare.net/thecroaker/death-by-powerpoint

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.

http://scobleizer.posterous.com/why-i-dont-use-google-reader-anymore

http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/10/29/using-twitter-lists-instead-of-google-reader/

http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/10/27/is-twitter-replacing-the-rss-reader/

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 CNN.com 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 http://beta.twittervision.com/ or http://twittermap.tv/ 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 bit.ly 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.

References

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 http://www2.research.att.com/~bala/papers/twit.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinegar

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca_cola

http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2009/01/using-twitter-in-libraries.html

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 http://www.techlearning.com/article/17340

http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604-1,00.html

http://www.vinegartips.com/Scripts/

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.

References

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

Armstrong, S. & Warlick, D. (2004). Tech & Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.techlearning.com/article/2806

Boyd, D. (2009). Social media is here to stay…now what? Microsoft Research Tech Fest, Redmond, CA.

http://blogs.wsj.com/management/2009/03/24/the-facebook-generation-vs-the-fortune-500/

http://www.commoncraft.com/video-social-networking

https://eclasslive.srv.ualberta.ca/UofA/play_recording.html?recordingId=1246988369343_1249504407175 – 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.

Animoto
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?

Voicethread
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.

Animoto
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.

Voicethread
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.

Advantages
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.”

Disadvantages

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.

References

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:

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=7679&title=Animoto_in_your_classroom_Part_2

First Voicethread

Meet the Creature Night