November 2008


literacy-with-ict1I feel fortunate to teach and collaborate with teachers in the school, school division and province that I do. Like any school, things are not always perfect but in terms technology, I think our provincial and divisional educational consultants, and our divisional and school administrators understand the importance of technology in preparing students for their lives in the 21st century. Since February, 2004, Manitoba educators have been working toward full implementation of a Literacy with ICT across the curriculum continuum in the 2008-09 school year. Teams of educators have been working together both at the divisional and school level to ensure that all teachers understand the importance of ICT and that they have the skills to implement the continuum and give quality feedback to parents. At my school, implementation of the Literacy with ICT across the curriculum continuum has been one of five top priorities articulated in our school plan.

I have been fortunate enough to be on my school’s ICT implementation team for the past two years. During this time I have talked to many educators both within my school and my school division about ICT, I have had the opportunity to learn new Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, digital storytelling and multimedia applications such as Voicethreads and Jumpcut, I have taught several teachers how to use these applications and helped them design authentic ways to use them in the classroom. I have also been involved in discussions regarding best reporting practices for ICT to ensure that parents are kept well-informed of their child’s abilities when it comes to using ICT tools in schools.

Despite all these very positive “moves” in the right direction, there are still many teachers struggling to understand what literacy with ICT means and how they should go about infusing it into the curriculum. Some educators believe that ICT education means instructing students on how to use Word, PowerPoint, Publisher and perhaps Excel. Although it’s important that students learn these skills, what I have heard in this course and in discussions with our division’s implementation committee and divisional consultant is that literacy with ICT is so much more than demonstrating ICT skills on a limited set of software Web 1.0 applications. It’s also about choosing and using ICT responsibly and ethically to support critical and creative thinking about information and communication across the curriculum and it’s about working and collaborating with others both locally and globally online through the World Wide Web using Web 2.0 tools to add and build on the collective knowledge of the people.

Seeing the Big Picture

At school, I have found myself teaching others how to use blogs, wikis, del.icio.us, digital stories, Jumpcut and Voicethreads and modelling how they can be used effectively as learning tools in the classroom but I never realized the significance of the “read/write web” as a whole. I was basically teaching these tools in isolation but not really understanding just how much potential there is to engage learners with these tools. I certainly understood why students like to learn in this way as I’m sure most of my fellow staff members understand this since we’ve discussed it before at various professional development sessions but I don’t think I was really “connecting the dots.”

If I wasn’t connecting the dots and seeing the “big picture” and I’m involved with technology issues every day, I can’t imagine that many others on my staff are getting it either. Although there are a few teachers on my staff who are well on their way toward infusing Web 2.0 tools into the curriculum, I know that there are many teachers on my staff who are not so enthusiastic and probably some that are just going through the motions adding ICT into their programs because the government has mandated that they must. I think that all teachers would be far more willing to find time to learn and adopt new Web 2.0 tools into their classes and get excited about the possibilities inherent in Web 2.0 tools if they could understand just how significant they can be to enhance student learning.

Getting Teachers Excited about Web 2.0

So how do I go about helping more teachers to see “the big picture” and get excited about using Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms? I know we’ve got a good start but where do we go from here? To answer this question, I wondered if I had a particular turning point in this course that led me to see where education is headed and become truly excited about what the tools of Web 2.0 have to offer. Although I found my confidence and enthusiasm grow with each new tool I studied and learned in this course, I believe it was my RSS aggregator that helped me to understand the significance of Web 2.0 for today’s students.

rss-feeds-pictureWhy an RSS aggregator you ask? Both Will Richardson and Mary Harrsch use very similar terminology to describe RSS; Richardson states in his book, Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful tools for the classroom, that RSS is “the new killer app for educators” (p. 75 and Harrsch calls RSS “the next killer app for education.” Harrsch defines a “killer app” as “a program that provides the capability for an average person to use technology to solve every day problems and enrich their lives” and Richardson believes that RSS has the potential to add to a teacher’s knowledge base, help them communicate and improve their teaching (p. 77). He also writes that RSS is one of the new technologies that “are helping make Web 2.0 a reality, transforming the way we live in the 21st century—and the way we learn” (Merrily Down the Stream).

rss-reader-person1RSS was the one tool that truly made me feel a part of the bigger picture of what is happening in education today and this felt truly inspiring. “Rarely an hour goes by,” writes blogger Dave Winer about RSS feeds, “without something interesting happening, my mind is stimulated, I get new ideas, and of course I share them” (What is a News Aggregator?). This has been my experience, as well.

In just ten to fifteen minutes a day, I witnessed myself moving from a casual observer to a committed participant in the edublogosphere and thereby becoming a committed Web 2.0 educator. Not only have I learned from some of the most knowledgeable educators in the field of Web 2.0 today using my RSS reader but I have also started to make real professional connections in the edublogosphere and because of that I am excited to move forward and keep learning. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Google Reader was voted the third most useful tool for learning in 2008 behind del.icio.us and Firefox as tabulated by social media and learning consultant, Jane Hart. (Note: To see the entire list of Top 100 Tools for Learning, see http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/top100.html I would have voted del.icio.us number one, as well, but I’ve already taught my staff how to use this Web 2.0 tool).

This is what I envision for teachers. To be shown how to set up an RSS feeder, find some engaging bloggers to follow in the field of Web 2.0 and any other field of interest and just start reading. I think that by doing this, they will not be able to help but become enthusiastic about what Web 2.0 has to offer their students. This will serve to cement the beliefs about the benefits of ICT in those who are already highly interested and motivated like me and hopefully bring those that are not so enthusiastic in the first place to understand what all the fuss is about. Once they’ve been given time to “soak it all in,” then it will be time for me to offer my services and help them learn more about any Web 2.0 tool of their choosing and help them infuse it into their day-to-day teaching.

Some Specifics

Like most schools, the time we have for whole-school professional development is limited. Combine this with teachers who are constantly stretched to the max and it’s difficult to envision how professional development in terms of RSS feeds should unfold. What I do know is that whatever I have to teach them about RSS feeds needs to be concise and eminently useful for both themselves and their students. Whatever I do, I need to convince teachers that RSS feeds can not only save them time but can also help them stay “on top of” the latest information the field of education. As Geoff Butterfield writes in Edutopia, RSS feeds can help teachers “sort out the new from the mold” by feeding them the latest news in their field of expertise. In an environment where information is seemingly endless, having a tool that brings information to teachers and students rather than them having to search it out is, in my estimation, indispensable.

Before introducing RSS feeds to my staff, I would first want to ensure that they are clear on what is meant by the term, “Web 2.0.” Although I know some teachers on my staff know what is meant by the term, I know that there are some that do not so this would be my starting point. I think the most effective and efficient way of doing this would be to show them a video at a staff meeting or whole-school professional development session and then follow this up with a short presentation and question-and-answer period. For a video on Web 2.0, I think I would show Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/Ing Us:

For a more detailed look at the educational implications of Web 2.0, I would base my presentation on Michael Nieckoski’s PowerPoint presentation, “Web 2.0: A Primer.

After discussing the Web 2.0 and how it relates to education in general, I would then introduce my staff to the idea of RSS feeds and how this tool can help them begin to get a sense of what the Web 2.0 world has to offer them and their students and save time in the process. Once again, I feel that a short video presentation such as Common Craft’s “RSS in Plain English”

followed by a short discussion period would be the most effective way to introduce teachers to this Web 2.0 tool. For staff wanting a more thorough explanation of RSS, I would recommend Will Richardson’s article, “RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators.”

One of the most important things that I would stress about RSS feeds is that they are not the same as email. This is the single most important aspect of RSS that helped me to enjoy reading my RSS feeds throughout this course. I don’t want the teachers on my staff thinking that their RSS feeds are a burden so it’s important that they know that RSS feeds do not have to be read everyday, that they can quickly be deleted if they don’t want to read them and they don’t have to respond to anything if they choose not to. Having said this, however, I would encourage teachers to get into the habit of reading their RSS feeds on a regular basis. As Will Richardson writes, the most important part of using the RSS tool is to develop the habit of reading your feeds daily. He suggests taking a few minutes to read them right after checking email to get into the routine (2006, p. 86). This is what I did throughout the course and found it to be most successful and truth be told, a bit addicting!

From there, I would begin making appointments to visit each teacher individually to show them how to set up an RSS reader, help them find sites that interest them, show them how to add sites and how to read them. (I’ll be starting with our technology committee who can help me to “spread the word” once they get going!) I would come equipped with a list of possible blogs, news sites and podcasts that I feel might interest every department but I would ideally like the suggestions to come from them so they will take ownership over their readers. In addition, I would encourage them to read at least one blog relating directly to education and technology such as Will Richardson’s Webblogg-ed, Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog or Vicki Davis’ The Cool Cat Teacher Blog to get them started thinking about the bigger picture of Web 2.0.

My RSS reader of choice is Google Reader. This is the reader that I would like to help them set up not necessarily because it’s the best reader (I find all RSS readers very similar) but because they can attach it to an iGoogle page which can be accessed easily from any computer. If they don’t already have an iGoogle page, I think this would be a good time to show them how this application can help keep themselves organized in an electronic world. On my iGoogle homepage, I can access my Google reader, my del.icio.us account, my calendar and my “to-do” list and many other cool add-ons that serve to personalize my space. I think this fun tool might be one way of getting some teachers more excited about the possibilities of Web 2.0 and help simplify their lives online.

rss-reader-blogosphere1As teachers are hopefully reading their RSS feeds, I will continue to mentor them on an individual basis to suggest, plan, teach and assess lessons, assignments and/or projects that use Web 2.0 tools to create authentic learning experiences. This collaborative teaching model has been used successfully in the past to teach new Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, voicethreads, Flickr, del.icio.us and digital storytelling. Now that I have more experience with podcasts, I hope to add that application to my Web 2.0 toolbox, as well. In the future, it is my intention to keep up-to-date on the latest Web 2.0 tools by continuing to read my RSS feeds, learn how to use them much like I have done in this course and then teach them to other staff members on an “as-needs” basis.

It is my hope that as staff members become more comfortable with Web 2.0 tools, they will be encouraged and excited to try others. I found in this course that the more tools I learned, the more interested I was in trying to learn more. After all, success breeds success! I also noticed that as time went by, I lost my initial “fear” of trying new tools because I knew that if I just kept at it, I would eventually figure out how to use the tool. I also discovered that the great thing about Web 2.0 tools is that they are remarkably easy to use. I hope that more teachers will discover this as they begin working more with these tools.

Long Term Objectives

My long term goal for RSS feeds is for teachers to not only get excited about Web 2.0, but also to get excited about the latest information available in their field of expertise. Eventually, I hope to show them how to subscribe to feeds using Google Alerts, del.icio.us, and Ebscohost so that they can use these tools to enhance learning, as well. Once they have the concept of RSS feeds “under their belts,” I think these will be easy lessons to teach.

Ultimately, I’d like to teach students about RSS feeds so they can use them as learning tools. I think Stephanie Quilao’s explanation of RSS “the Oprah way” might be particularly useful teaching students about RSS. If students knew how to use RSS feeds, they could keep track of the changes made on teacher or classroom blogs, wikis or nings just as teachers can keep track of changes made on student blogs or wikis. They can also subscribe to the blogs of their classmates and suggest their own feeds to create a collaborative learning communities within the classroom. In addition, students can be taught how to use RSS feeds to conduct research on any topic imaginable. Once the students know how to use RSS, they can pass that knowledge on to their parents (this might best be done at a formal tri-conferencing session) who could set up RSS feeds for both their child’s blog or wiki and the classroom blog or wiki. Having parents using RSS feeds would certainly keep them up-to-date on the latest classroom events, lessons and assignments, in addition to highlighting the use of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

Overall School Technology Plan

I believe that educating teachers, students and parents about Web 2.0 and RSS feeds will bring focus to our school’s technology plan as a whole. We are currently doing many things right in terms of moving teachers in the direction of embracing the power of the read/write web. We are primarily using a mentorship model that provides on-going support for teachers interested in learning and implementing various Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Although this model is working well, there are still teachers who do not understand what Web 2.0 has to offer their students and are therefore reluctant to move forward. By educating teachers how to use RSS feeds and asking them to read at least one or two feeds that deal directly with Web 2.0 educational technology issues, it is my hope that our staff will come together and create a unified vision of what education in the future will look like for our students who have grown up in a digital world and in doing so, provide the best possible education for all of our students.

As a teacher-librarian, I am prepared to do my share of teaching and collaborating to ensure that Web 2.0 tools are used to their fullest advantage in my school. In the future, I will be highlighting more Web 2.0 student work on my virtual library wiki and I’m considering creating a whole new blog or ning and inviting teachers to join in on the discussions And, of course, we won’t forget to use our RSS feeds to find out when anything new has been added! I will also be encouraging teachers to create classroom blogs or wikis that will allow them to showcase student Web 2.0 work and share it with other students, teachers, administrators, parents, school board officials and other interested parties around the world. A few of the schools in my area have a parent evening once a year to showcase their students’ use of ICT throughout the year. Perhaps it’s time our school did the same.

References

Butterfield, G. (July, 2007). Tech Teacher: Cut Through the Web Noise. Edutopia. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2008, from http://www.edutopia.org/tech-teacher-RSS

Harrsch, M. (July/Aug., 2003). The next killer app for education. In The Technology Source Archives at the University of North Carolina. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2008, from http://technologysource.org/article/rss/

Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. (2006). Literacy with ICT across the curriculum. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2008, from www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/tech/lict/index.html

Quilao, S. (n.d.). How to explain RSS the Oprah way. Back in Skinny Jeans Blog. Retrieved Nov. 28, 2008, from http://www.backinskinnyjeans.com/backinskinnyjeans/2006/09/how_to_explain_.html

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin Press.

Richarsdon, W. (July, 2006). Merrily down the stream. School Library Journal. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2008, from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6348380.html?industryid=47078&q=social+bookmarking+in+the+classroom

Richardson, W. (2005). RSS: A quick guide for educators. Retrieved Nov. 21, 2008, from http://www.weblogg-ed.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/05/RSSFAQ4.pdf

Winer, D. (Oct. 8, 2002). What is a News Aggregator? Retrieved Nov. 21, 2008, from

http://www.scripting.com/davenet/2002/10/08/whatIsANewsAggregator.html

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

maoI’ve just finished reading a deeply philosophical essay by Isaac Mao from The People’s Republic of China called “Sharism: A mind revolution. This essay is part of a collection of essays gathered by Joi Ito to celebrate the power of Web 2.0 and “all the people who are willing to share.” It was first brought to my attention by Will Richardson who reflected on Mao’s thoughts in his own blog last week as he lamented that there are still educators out there who are not willing to share their best teaching practices and lessons with others online (Nov. 18, 2008).

Though neither Richardson nor Mao’s thoughts relate directly to this week’s course topic on blogs and blogging for professional development, I believe that what both men have to say about the worldwide benefits of individuals freely sharing information speaks to the learning potential inherent in the blogging process. “The Less You Share, The Less Power You Have” is the motto of Mao’s essay. This is a twist on the wise-old saying “the more you give away, the more you receive.” Richardson interprets the notion of the power or gifts one receives as a result of sharing as both the knowledge one gains from creating blogs and the lasting learning relationships that can develop as a result of blogging.

Isn’t it knowledge and a supportive network of educators we hope to gain in every professional development opportunity we take part in?

I challenge any educator to read any one of my blog posts or the blog posts of any of my classmates in this course and tell me that blogging isn’t one of the best professional development tools available for educators today. I don’t have to turn to any experts to tell me that what I’ve witnessed and participated in throughout this course with blogs and blogging has been some of the best, if not the best, professional development I’ve ever taken part in. I’ve increased my “power as an educator” by being willing to share my thoughts and ideas with others through my blog, helping them to grow as educators and I have grown as an educator by reading and participating in the blogs of others.

Talk about a powerful symbiotic relationship which I believe is at the heart of most personally significant professional development endeavours.

In my school division, teachers are expected to develop their own professional learning plans according to a “Professional Growth Model” designed by a committee of divisional personnel, school administrators and teachers. The model emphasizes “reflection, inquiry and collaboration, challenging educators to focus on the Professional Standards and seek knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of their practice” (Pembina Trails Professional Growth Model, Preamble). By the end of the year, teachers are required to show evidence both of their own learning and how this learning has benefited the students they teach.

If you’re at all familiar with blogs and blogging, you will notice immediately how closely they resemble the primary aims of this professional growth model. Has blogging allowed me to be reflective of my current teaching practice? Yes! Has blogging allowed me to develop my own inquiry questions? Yes! Has blogging given me the chance to collaborate with others? Yes! Has blogging challenged me as an educator to focus on professional standards? Yes! Has blogging given me the opportunity to aquire new knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of my practice. Yes!

When it comes time to have my final professional learning plan meeting with my administrator this year, will I be able to demonstrate my learning and show how this learning has benefitted the students in my school? There is no question in my mind that the answer to this question is a firm and enthusiastic, “absolutely!” In fact, I can’t wait to share my blog with my administrator at the end of the course and show her all I have learned about the powerful learning tools of Web 2.0 for schools and libraries.

As David Jakes writes in his blog, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” blogging is all about personal growth, extending yourself out of your comfort zone and getting involved as an educator. It’s about “becoming a catalyst for change…reflecting, questioning, getting uncomfortable – and then perhaps challenging the assumptions of your foundation.” If professional development asks you to consider how you can grow as an educator and what you can do better to help students learn, then blogging can help you reach your professional development goals.

With my blog, I have a tangible and searchable record or evidence of all my learning as it pertains to my professional learning goals articulated in my professional learning plan. I have already started to use or are planning to use many of these tools in the near future with various staff members and classes. It is my intention to gather feedback from at least some of the teachers and students I have worked with throughout the course of the year to show my administrators that students have benefitted in a positive way from my learning this year.

Blogs and Blogging as Professional Learning Tools

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not heard of the term “blog” in today’s technologically-driven society. Unfortunately, many believe that blogs are merely places where individuals tell others about their day, their feelings and perhaps hopes for the future and those that are close to them can add a sympathetic “ear” by leaving them comments on their posts. By its very nature, a blog is a perfect vehicle to share feelings, thoughts and reflections and make connections with others and I’m not suggesting that these are not valid uses of a blog. However, if structured with learning in mind, the blogging process can be “a significant learning and networking tool that can help individuals, groups, and organizations learn in new and interesting ways” (Karrer, p. 1).

This course is a perfect example of how the blogging process can be structured in such a way as to maximize the learning potential of blogs for professional development or any other type of learning, for that matter. In each of the posts for this course, I was required to show evidence of research and further reading of the topic, demonstrate my critical thinking and new knowledge on the topic, reflect on the process of learning one or two new Web 2.0 tools each week and discuss the implications of the tool for teaching and learning purposes. A tall order, indeed, by but structuring the blogging process in this way, my blog became a wonderful tool for me to both consolidate what I had learned about the various tools and think about how they could be used in an educational setting. Due to the deep thinking that was involved in preparing for each post, I found that my metacognitive skills improved immeasurably throughout the course.

As I analyzed and synthesized the information for each post and chose appropriate links, pictures, videos and podcasts to share, I was also required to consider my audience and writing style in order to keep the readers of my blog “hooked.” I found that this desire to keep my readers engaged in the blogging process to be powerful learning motivator. It was much like preparing for a presentation at a more traditional professional development session in which I needed to know my information well and at the same time keep my audience thinking and somewhat entertained. In “Learning and networking with a blog,” author Tony Karrer discusses the similarity between writing a blog post and preparing for a meeting (p. 2). In both cases, you need to know both your subject and audience well.

However, blogging for the sake of professional development is so much more than writing for or attending traditional professional development sessions which are often static, expert-driven affairs. Blogging is all about sharing and making connections in a very collegial, interactive and give-and-take atmosphere in which everyone has the potential to learn something new, even the so-called “experts.” Every time a blogger writes a post there is the potential for a meaningful dialogue and relationship to develop with anyone in the world, near or far. Since blogs are ongoing, this dialogue can be sustained over a far greater period of time and therefore there is the potential for a much more meaningful and deeper relationship to develop.

I believe that it’s this ability to develop deeper relationships amongst educators that may be the spark some teachers need to encourage them to take charge of their own professional development. I know I have developed a deeper relationship with my classmates over time in this course to the point where I have an honest desire to keep our professional dialogue going into the future. I want to see them succeed just as much as I know they want me to succeed in helping our students and fellow teachers learn and use Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms.

As I became involved in the blogging process for this course, I found it fascinating to realize that I learned just as much about each of the various Web 2.0 tools we’ve studied in this course by reading and commenting on what my classmates have said about learning and working with the tools than my own reading, writing and experimenting with them. You just don’t get that kind of deep knowledge and interaction with others in more traditional professional development courses. My classmates ideas, reflections and questions have been invaluable to me as an educator dedicated to improving my teaching practice and providing the best education I can for my students. I have come to understand first hand through the blogging process that the collective knowledge of a group of people is far deeper than the knowledge anyone person can ever hope to know and understand. I know they have learned from me, just as I have learned from them through our blogs.

blogs-pictures

I have also been amazed at the amount I have learned about Web 2.0 tools for schools and libraries by following some of the “big” names in the field. Just by following a few key educators like Vicki A. Davis (The Cool Cat Teacher Blog), Will Richardson (Weblogg-ed), Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog), David Warlick (2Cent Worth Blog) and Jane Hart (Jane’s e-learning), I feel like I’m at the “cutting edge” of the field of education and everything Web 2.0 – from tips, to tools, to conferences, to people, I can’t believe what these people are willing to offer the educators of the world and it’s all for free! Their enthusiasm for education is truly infectious and I can’t wait to share what I have learned from reading these blogs with my fellow teachers. If professional development is “teachers talking to teachers” as stated in our provincial teachers’ society handbook, then blogging as a professional development tool is second to none.

Blogs: The Flexible and Affordable Learning Growth Plan

On top of it all, blogs as professional learning communities are not limited to any particular location, time of day or group. Blogs can be used as professional learning tools within schools, divisions, provinces and countries – there simply are no boundaries. Anyone can access their favourite blogs from anywhere in the world, day or night and there is no limit to the number of professional learning groups any one person can join. As of December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs (Wikipedia). Other sources for exclusively educational blogs that teachers could find blogs to follow are the: International Edublog Directory, November Learning Communities and UK & Ireland EduBlog Directory. Surely teachers can find one or two blogs that will help them to grow as educators. Add an RSS aggregator to your personal learning plan and you’ve got it made. Professional development was never so easy and self-directed!

Can’t get to your favourite conference this year, no problem – someone is sure to blog about it almost as soon as it happens. Although it can admittedly be difficult to read if you’re stuck in a freezing location while your blogger is enjoying the fine weather in a more southerly location, you’ll still be able to get the latest details from the conference from at least one blogger or two. In fact, it’s probably those that “Twitter” who’ll get the information about a conference or event out to you first. Twitter is a form of micro-blogging in which individuals stay connected to the latest news and events by writing short, concise statements much like Facebook’s “What are you doing now” comments. (For more information about other micro-blogging tools, I suggest you check out Jane Hart’s article, “Microblogging/Real Time Messaging Tools”).

Although the information in “Twitters” is limited to 300 characters, these short statements alert readers to new, emerging information in the field and often point “followers” in the direction of more detailed information. I am currently following approximately twenty different educators and a few groups who use Twitter and I find that it helps me to keep abreast of breaking news in the field. If there’s anything happening in the world of technology and libraries, I’m sure to know it almost as soon as it’s been announced. Currently, my favourite Twitter group is from the School Library Journal and Schlib.

Can’t find a Twitter group to suit professional development needs and interests? Then look no further than Twingr which will allow you to create your own microblogging network.

There is also a growing trend toward “live blogging” which is sure to enhance the blogging experience for educators even more in the future. Live blogging, according to Aliza Sherman writing for “The Web Worker Daily,” describes blogging that “captures the words, sounds, and images at an event and posts them online to a variety of Web 2.0 enabled sites with the goal of sharing the experience for those who cannot attend while preserving key moments in an archive.” CoveritLive is software that has emerged in the past year or so that enables bloggers to cover live events like keynote addresses, press conferences and meetings while interacting with their readers during the event. So you don’t even have to leave home to be a part of a dynamic learning experience.

Live or recorded podcasts and webcasts are also another way for teachers to stay connected professionally. Although it’s often not possible to participate in live podcasts due to the times they are offered, teachers can subscribe to their favourite and most informative digital audio recordings through an RSS feed and listen to the podcasts when it’s convenient for them.

What does the research say about blogging and professional development?

To be honest, very little. Since using blogs for professional development is a relatively new concept, I could find only a few anecdotal reports on how using blogs for professional development has benefitted teachers. In “Taking faculty development online,” author Krista Hiser describes how using a blog for professional development has nurtured the dialogue between faculty members from various disciplines, different backgrounds and from all levels of experience at her university (p. 1). Analysis of the discussion boards from their online “Teaching and Learning” course has shown that their faculty members are more than pleased with being able to interact with their colleagues through blogs.

Although I could not find the complete article, the abstract of April Lynn Luehmann’s article, “Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study” infers that blogging was used successfully as a professional development tool by a middle school science teacher. I wish I could get the full article since it also outlines several ways that teachers can enhance their professional development needs using blogs.

Since there is so little information on blogging and professional development, I applaud educators like Joanne de Groot (the instructor for this course) and Jennifer Branch from the University of Alberta who not only revised an information technology course in the teacher-librarianship graduate program at the University of Alberta last year to include blogging as the primary vehicle to demonstrate student learning of various Web 2.0 tools but also undertook an extensive analysis of the learning process to determine whether the format of the course was an effective way to prepare teachers and teacher-librarians for teaching in a Web 2.0 world. Although their work in this area is far from complete, their initial findings based on the transcripts of the participants’ blogs and course evaluations show that teachers taking the course to extend their professional development of Web 2.0 tools were more than satisfied by the amount of learning that took place (p. 19).

Can professional development get any better than this?

Isn’t this what we want for teachers in terms of professional development? To keep them engaged in the teaching process by giving them access to the latest information in their field and by giving them a voice so that they can share in the collective wisdom of all and pass it on to others to improve teaching practice? There is a big push in our school division toward establishing learning groups. I think a blog would be an excellent way to communicate between the members of the group. They can communicate whenever they want and as many times as they want. I’ll have to suggest this idea at our next professional development committee meetings both at the school and divisional levels.

I can think of no other professional development activity that I have been involved in that has led me to greater personal fulfillment as an educator. I have grown and learned so much as an educator and I can’t wait to share my learning with others. I am looking forward to continuing to find my voice in the edublogosphere. There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored and relationships to be developed. What a professionally exciting time for educators around the world and best of all, I’m a part of it!

References

de Groot, J., & Branch, J. (2008). World class learning and literacy through school libraries: Preparing teacher librarians for a Web 2.0 world. Paper presented at the IASL Conference 2008, Berkeley.

Hiser, K. (Aug., 2008). Taking faculty development online. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 25(14), 1. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Ito, Joi. (2008). Essays. FreeSouls Captured and Released. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/

Jakes, D. (Oct. 17, 2008). Tragedy of the commons. The Strength of Weak Ties Blog. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2008, from http://strengthofweakties.org/?p=277

Karrer, T. (Sept., 2007). Learning and networking with a blog. Alexandria, 61(9), 1-4. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Luehmann, A.L. (July/Sept., 2008). Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study. (Abstract). Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Mao, I. (n.d.). Sharism: A mind revolution. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/essays/07-isaacThe -mao-sharism.html

Sherman, A. (Sept. 11, 2008). More on live blogging event. The WebWorkerDaily. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://webworkerdaily.com/tag/blog/

Richardson, W. (Nov. 18, 2008). The less you share, the less power you have. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://weblogg-ed.com/

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rss-logo1Why don’t more people know about this??? There hasn’t been anyone on my teaching staff or beyond that I’ve talked to in the past two months since I began using an RSS aggregator that has the remotest idea of what I’m talking about when I bring up the topic of RSS feeds. It’s like I’m talking in a foreign language yet I believe that next to social bookmarking, RSS is one of the most necessary Web 2.0 tool anyone who is using the Internet today needs to understand and learn how to use. Goldsborough calls it “The Holy Grail of the Information Age” and I couldn’t agree more (p. 1). In my opinion, using an RSS aggregator or reader is simply one of the most essential tools that people living and teaching in the 21st century need in order to cope with the inordinate amount of information that is available online today. It is the only way to stay connected with the people and ideas in your chosen field(s) of interest and remain sane at the end of the day.

What is RSS?

There are many videos you can find on YouTube, TeacherTube or Google Video that can give you a quick overview of RSS. I found this one on YouTube to help me understand the “nuts and bolts” of RSS:

For more information about RSS feeds, you may also want to check out the Edmonton Public Library’s presentation called “A Gentle Introduction to RSS Feeds.” This presentation provides a clear overview RSS and the benefits of using RSS feeds.

In a nutshell, RSS or Real Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary is a XML code that is embedded in most electronic references that allows the information to be distributed in “natural” language whenever it’s updated, usually by the hour, to whomever subscribes to the site (or parts of the site) where the information was generated. This ever-changing information that gets distributed is called a “feed.” In order to receive the information from a “feed,” the subscriber needs to have access to a “feed reader” called an aggregator. Aggregators can either be found on a computer’s desktop (along with “My Favorites”) or my personal favourite, on free, web-based sites that allow users to access their feeds from any computer.

Although RSS feeds have been around since 1997 (Cohen, p. 4), they have come into their own with the Read/Write web. Before the advent of Web 2.0, anyone wanting to publish information on the Internet either had to know complicated computer language or find someone who did. Now with various Web 2.0 sharing and communication tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, picture and video-sharing sites that require no special computer-programming knowledge to use them, virtually anyone with Internet access can publish information on the web. This has caused an explosion of information available on the Internet and has opened up new avenues to network with people from all over the world.

The beauty of RSS is that it allows you keep up with this enormous amount of information that is now being generated worldwide on the Internet and it actually saves ye time in the process. RSS is all about convenience whether it’s for the creator of the information who wants to let others know about what they’ve created or the reader who wants to keep up with the latest information on any topic, events, groups or individuals. Stephen Abram, an avid blogger and vice president of innovation from SirsiDynix claims that he can keep track of “500 blogs in fifteen minutes twice a day” using Bloglines. How is this possible you might ask? Before the days of RSS, if you wanted to find the latest information or thinking about your chosen topic of interest, you had to conduct a search using one of numerous search engines at your disposal every time you wanted an update and visit each site religiously just to make sure you weren’t missing anything. In other words, you had to do all the work and a lot of time was wasted going to sites that didn’t even have anything new to offer.

With an RSS feed, instead of you doing all the work, the RSS feed does it for you. By subscribing to one or several (the number is unlimited) feeds about the latest news, your topic and/or groups or individuals of interest, every time that site(s) changes, the updated information is sent to your customized aggregator where it is saved until you decide what to do with the information. No more time wasted going to sites that haven’t changed and as Chris Harris states in his blog post “Staying Ahead of Bookmarks with RSS,” “The RSS feed won’t bug you unless there is new information, which helps you avoid overload.” Using your aggregator, you can quickly skim through the feeds to see whether any interest you, read the ones that do and save them in your favourite bookmarking site, email them to yourself or others, print them or save them to file and delete the ones you don’t want.

I think that the best part about RSS feeds is that they are guilt-free. Unlike email where you must open up and read everything, using an aggregator, you’re in total control – read what you want, when you want and delete the rest.

At one time, RSS feeds would have been used mainly by the creators of web sites and blogs but one of the interesting features of RSS feeds is that they are able to convert any digital medium into a text-based feed. Not only can blogs be syndicated but now a wide variety of digital sources can also be fed to your aggregator which can be read on your computer, your phone, your personal digital assistant (pda) like a palm pilot or blackberry or listened to on your MP3 players. I think it’s amazing that I can subscribe to a podcast feed and my iTunes program downloads it directly to my iPod.

In a presentation prepared for the 2006 K12 Online Conference, Quentin D’Souza shows both the various types of online sources that can be syndicated using an RSS feed and how RSS feeds have evolved into being an essential part on all online digital sources and not just blogs as they once were:

rss-feed-possibilities

Getting Started

Using RSS feeds is as simple as its name suggests. It’s simply a matter of signing up for a feed reader or aggregator account such as Bloglines or Google Reader and then copying and pasting your favourite sites into the aggregator. Sometimes it’s even as simple as clicking on the RSS icon and then choosing which reader you want the feed sent to. Then you just need to sit back, relax and wait for the feeds to come to you. Your feed reader can be placed right onto your home page such as iGoogle, Yahoo! or Pageflakes, on your blog or wiki, or onto your desktop so it can be accessed easily. You gotta love it!

I chose to sign up for a Bloglines account because that was the type of aggregator I could attach to my WordPress blog. You can see it on the right of this blog. The first thing I did was to add the blogs of my fellow students in this course by copying and pasting their site addresses into the section in bloglines that said “Add.” I also added a direct feed to the Blue Skunk Blog just to see if it was possible. No problem. My next order of business was to find other blogs, wikis or podcasts to subscribe to in my chosen field. I asked some of my teacher-librarian collegues if they had any favorites and from the sites they suggested, I was able to generate a list of other sites by clicking on the “related subscribers” icon in Bloglines. I have since discovered that I could have also found sites of related interest by conducting searches in Technorati or Syndic8. I have also discovered that I can send my favourite feeds to others by using the edit feature on Bloglines which allows you to export and import feeds.

As I found other sites of interest throughout the course, I added these to my Bloglines account. One thing I noticed about subscribing to various sites is that there are options to which parts of the sites I want to subscribe to. Although this works well with news feed, in particular, I found it a pain to have to subscribe to both the posts and the feeds separately. When I first started using Bloglines, I thought that my aggregator wasn’t working because I wasn’t getting the comments updated. Hmm…now I know better. I also discovered that there isn’t just one symbol to indicate whether a site can be syndicated or not. I found this to be confusing at first and I’m sure newcomers to RSS would find this as well. Although, the symbol that I attached at the beginning of this post now appears to be gaining in popularity, there are many others to indicate syndication. See why this is so confusing:

rss-logos-several1

Using Bloglines as an aggregator was extremely easy but after the discussion in our class about how to stay organized in a digital world, I decided to give Google Reader a try. This would allow me to consolidate many of the online tools I use on a regular basis to just one site – my iGoogle page. Since I already have a gmail account, signing up to use Google Reader took no time at all. It struck me that if I wanted my students and staff to use Google Reader, they would first have to have a gmail account. This would be a problem in our school since gmail is currently blocked. An alternative would be to use Bloglines where students could use their division-based accounts to sign up for an account.

I didn’t find that there was much of a difference between using Google Reader and Bloglines in terms adding and deleting sites, marking them all read and going to the original site or not but I prefer Google Reader because I can see and choose from a list of previous postings in each of the sites which I couldn’t do in Bloglines. This helps me find information in previous posts easier because I don’t have to go to the actual site.

Using RSS Feeds in Schools

I think that RSS feeds are so great for educators that I’m making a personal vow right now to ensure that each one of our teachers and administrators knows what RSS feeds are and how to use them.I will also be approaching our divisional teacher-librarian coordinator to ask her for time during one of our meetings so that I can teach my fellow teacher-librarians all about RSS feeds. Although I’m not as extreme about RSS as one of Andy Carvin’s colleagues who once told him, “If you don’t have an RSS feed, you’re already dead to me,” I cannot imagine a better tool for keeping teachers and administrators up-to-date on the latest educational news than using RSS feeds. What a wonderful professional development tool!

I think that one of the best ways to introduce teachers and students to the beauty of feeds is to teach them first how to subscribe to feeds in the social bookmarking tool, del.icio.us. Since I’ve already taught the teachers on my staff about del.icio.us and how to use it on a basic level, this would be the next logical step. From there, I would show teachers how to set up an aggregator and how to find sites to follow whether they are web pages, blogs, wikis or podcasts just to get them used to reading RSS feeds.

Once teachers are comfortable following their own feeds, I would introduce the idea of having the class follow feeds on a daily basis to keep up with current events, either local, national or international, or the latest information in any topic. This would be so easy to do with digital projectors and/or SmartBoards that are found in many classrooms today. Once the class is used to following feeds, I would teach them how to set up their own feed readers and begin following some sites on their own.

Teachers could use feeds from their classroom blogs or wikis to update students and parents of upcoming assignments, tests and class events. If students had individual blogs or wikis, teachers could subscribe to their feeds and read all the updates in one place rather than having to go to each individual site. Students could also subscribe to each other’s blogs and wikis and comment on the changes as they occur.

Although it might take awhile to teach all teachers and students how to use RSS feeds, I have immediate plans to teach our gifted bio-tech students how to use RSS feeds so they can have access to the latest information in their field. Since much of the latest scientific information comes out in digital format whether it is on the open or deep web, it only makes sense to teach these students how to use RSS feeds. In “Accessing and managing scientific literature: Using RSS in the classroom,” Pence and Pence discuss the importance of teaching their science students how to use this valuable Web 2.0 tool and how to use RSS feeds to integrate them with class curricular content (p. 1).

I think the easiest way to set up RSS feeds to keep up with the latest research is to use Google Alerts. You can set up any number of “alerts” of the latest information on your topic that appear either on the web, in blogs, in the news, videos, groups or all of the above. The alerts can either be sent to your email or directly to your Google Reader (my preference since I hate my inbox to be cluttered or you could create a gmail account just for Alerts). If you use Bloglines, the feeds can be directed there, as well. If you want information sent to you from a particular news source(s), you can subscribe to feeds directly from Google News by clicking on the RSS button in the lower left hand side of the screen after a search has been completed. Students and teachers interested in current events or the latest news in their field or interests might also like to check out Moreover.com It’s another great source of news that allows you to set up feeds that I think teachers and students will love.

I also hope that by learning how to use RSS feeds, teachers and students might be inclined to use the “alert” feeds on our online database, Ebscohost which “has always been on the cusp of RSS technology” (Cohen, p. 3). Like many other teacher-librarians, I have found Ebscohost to be a tough sell. If, like Cohen suggests, teachers and students catch on to the “hip technology” of RSS, maybe online databases would be used more in schools. If nothing else, I’d like to teach my staff how to set up email “alerts” of their favourite professional and personal periodicals. Every month, your favorites periodicals can be sent to your inbox for free – how can anyone beat that??

In the library, I could set up feeds to search for news of our favourite authors and book reviews. To find the latest books for my library’s collection, I could subscribe to feeds from online book sources such as Amazon.com. I could even subscribe to LibraryThing to find out what others are reading. If students are looking for specific information, I could create feeds for the library and provide reference service in a slightly different way. Using RSS feeds to supplement reference services in the library is outlined in an article by Steven Cohen, “The power of RSS: Instant information updating based on quality searches.” In this article, he reinforces the idea of how easy it is to keep up with the latest information using RSS feeds in order to provide quality service to your library’s patrons. To see how the Ottawa Public Library is using feeds, go to: http://www.biblioottawalibrary.ca/events/rss/rssmain_e.cfm

I have found that one of the most interesting ways feeds can be used is to find out what others are saying about you on the web. I’ve had two instances in this course of individuals whom I have quoted in my blog who have left me comments. I’m sure the only way they found themselves on my blog is if they have a Google Alert feed set up that tells them when their name is mentioned. If you want to know whether others are quoting the information on your blog, you can set up a watchlist at Technorati for your blog address.

Final Verdict

I was truly amazed at how easy it was for me to keep up with the latest news, Web 2.0 tools, conferences and library events using Bloglines and Google Reader. Although I’m not following 200 blogs like Stephen Abram, I am subscribing to enough blogs and listening to enough podcasts that I believe will help keep me connected to the latest educational information the world has to offer. I simply got into the habit of reading my feeds everyday after checking my email and Facebook pages. I was usually finished within ten to fifteen minutes and didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I didn’t feel pressured to read them everyday and although I’ve skimmed a great many, now I feel really connected to the people and ideas floating around the edublogosphere.

I will definitely keep reading my RSS feeds in the future and I hope I will be able to convert a few teachers and students along the way. In Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms, Will Richardson reminds us how important it is for educators to model the use of RSS in their classrooms in order to give students the skills they need to cope in the 21st century (p. 77). As educators, Richardson believes that it is vital that we give students the tools to sort through the enormous amount of information they are currently exposed to and will be exposed to in the future. We also need to give them the skills to quickly assess for themselves which information is relevant to them if they are to avoid the pitfalls of information overload.

Onward, then, to find and teach the “holy grail” of the information age: RSS feeds.

References

Abram, S. (Dec. 4, 2006). Bloglines. Stephen’s Lighthouse. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2008, from http://stephenslighthouse.sirsidynix.com/archives/2006/12/bloglines.html

Carvin, A. (Sept. 18, 2006). RSS Feeds: Making Your Favorite Websites Come to You. PBS Teachers Learning Now. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from

http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2006/09/rss_feeds_making_your_favorite.html

Cohen, S. (Jan./Feb., 2008). The power of RSS: Instant information updating based on quality searches. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(1), 1-4.

D’Souza, Q. (Oct. 26, 2006). RSS for Educators (Advanced). In Lani Ritter Hall, K12 Online Conference. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=47

Goldsborough, R. (Feb. 2007). Keeping up with really simple syndication (rss). Teacher Librarian, 34(3), 103.

Harris, C. (March 16, 2007). Staying ahead of bookmarks with RSS. School Library Journal, Online Edition. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2008, from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/840000284/post/510007651.html?q=rss

Pence, L.E., & Pence, H.E. (Oct., 2008). Accessing and managing scientific literature: Using RSS in the classroom. Journal of Chemical Education, 85(10). 1. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for the classroom. California: Corwin Press.

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At the risk of showing my age, I have to admit that every time I think about social networking I think about this old shampoo commercial:

You have to admit that apart from the online aspect of social bookmarking, the idea of friends telling friends about a common interest (okay, it’s just clean hair but you get the point) is at the heart of social networks. The only difference is that there are now numerous web-based tools known as social networking sites that make connecting with people who share common goals or interests a whole lot easier and physical distance is no longer a factor.

Wikipedia lists over one hundred active social networking systems. There are social networking systems that suit the needs and interests of virtually anyone on the planet if they care to look. From Webkinz and Club Penguin for the under fourteen age group to the wildly popular Facebook and MySpace for older teens and adults, to Nings for a little older crowd, social networking sites are among the fastest-growing and most visited sites on the Internet and have become “a ubiquitous part of our culture” (Rosenfeld, p. 1). Among youth, more than 80% of young people online are networking and believe it or not, studies show that upward of 70% of these young people use networking sites to discuss education-related topics (Richardson, p. 1).

In addition to being able to connect with others who share common interests, family and friends, most social networking sites allow participants to communicate synchronously in live “chats”, and asynchronously sending e-mails, uploading videos, pictures, text files and music. They are a place to join or create new clubs or social forums, post messages on personal bulletin boards, create social calendars and personal blogs, play games, take quizzes and advertise anything you want for free. In fact, there are so many ways to personalize social networking sites that for some people, they have become virtual extensions of their physical selves.

My experience with social networking sites is limited. Although my three teenage sons avidly participate in and maintain their Facebook and MySpace sites spending as much time on them as I will allow, I haven’t tried social networking until this course. What I discovered when I signed up for my own Facebook account was that the basics of the site are really quite simple. After adding as much information on my user profile that I was comfortable with, I went searching for “friends” – family or acquaintances based on where I live and where I went to school. This ability to find and accept “friends” from the past and present is called “friending” (Carter, et al, p. 2) and is the process which links profiles together and expands the friendship list of the user since the user now has access to not only to their friends’ profiles but also to the profiles of their friends’ friends. And so on and so on…..

Social Networking from a Personal Perspective

As I “experimented” with Facebook these past two months, I found myself wearing three hats – as a private person, parent and educator. On a personal level, I found it difficult to understand the fascination millions around the world have with Facebook. To be honest, I think that’s mainly because I haven’t had enough time to use it because I’m just too busy. I plan to keep using it after this course to see whether I enjoy it more when I’m not so pressed for time. I also found it difficult to share much of myself in this format so I tended to send messages directly to the people I wanted to rather than write public messages on “walls” and tell everyone what I was doing. One of the features I loved the most about Facebook was how easy it was to upload pictures and videos for my family and friends to see. I sent a video to one of my cousins whom I spent a lot of time together over the summer. I doubt I would have done this had I not seen her profile online and had I not had access to a video-sharing tool.

Using Facebook so far I have reconnected with one of my high school friends which is pretty cool and wouldn’t have happened otherwise (I’m going to expand my parameters after the course to see if I can find any university friends). I now know that all of my over eighteen nieces and nephews have Facebook accounts and use them quite regularly. I have also found out what goes on in the lives of one of my sister-in-laws, cousin and to some extent my university instructor who all use Facebook on a daily basis. Honestly, I really don’t need that much information about other people’s private lives but I can see that they are able to easily let others know about what is happening in their lives and thus stay connected.

Social Networking from a Parent’s Perspective

From a parental perspective, using Facebook has been a real eye opener. When I asked my sons which site was the best and which one I should sign up for they all replied in unison, “whatever we’re not on!” So being the evil parent I am, I promptly signed up for the one they use the most – Facebook. And guess what has happened in the past two months – you’re right, they went back to updating and using their MySpace accounts! Mmmm….what does that tell me as a parent? Should I be worried???

My sons are no different from thousands of teens all over the world – they love to interact socially with their friends. Although they still like to get together with their friends at their homes or the mall, when they can’t get together, they love to interact with their friends online. When I was a teenager, I would have been on the phone; now teenagers are using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to keep themselves informed of what’s happening with their group of friends and making new friends through old friends. No matter the medium, teens will find a way to communicate with one another. In this new medium, they are as happy as can be with an endless world of relationships to explore and all kinds of people to hear what they have to say (Kollie, p. 1).

As a parent, I am not interested in “invading” my sons’ personal spaces online. I believe that they need a place where they can be themselves, discover who they are and actively participate in the world around them. If it’s not Facebook they’re using to discover who they are, they will always find another way, perhaps even a more dangerous way, to sort out for themselves who their friends are and what they’re interested in. I am also not interested in preventing my children from using social networking sites even if they are not risk free. I recognize that my children need to learn how to interact socially with others online since the digital world is the “new reality.” I figure if I can teach them to not talk to strangers they meet on the street, I can also teach them to not talk to strangers online!

My role of a parent is to stay informed about where my children are going online and how they are going about making connections with others. According to Tracy Mitrano in “Web 2.0,” parents need to get their “heads out of the sand” and become more informed of how social networking tools work. Although I trust my sons to say and share appropriate things online, this course has forced me to become more informed about how Facebook works. Now I am able to ask my sons intelligent questions about how they are using Facebook and how they are keeping themselves safe online. It also doesn’t hurt that they now know I can find out what they are saying online which I think helps them to take a sober second look before posting (at least I hope it does!)

Social Networking from a Teacher’s Perspective

I approach thinking about using social networking in schools much the same way as I do as a parent. Since social networking sites are not going to disappear and students are not going to stop using them, I believe it is my role as an educator to give my students the skills and knowledge they need to use social networking sites ethically and in a safe manner. It is also my role as an educator to model the positive use of this Web 2.0 tool so that students can learn positive ways of building connections and networks and finding their passions which they can then apply to future learning and life situations.

As educators, I believe we also need to dispel the myths about social networking sites and their potential dangers. Did you know that there isn’t a single case related to MySpace where someone has been abducted? In an article Doug Johnson wrote about Facebook, he states that safety issues need to be put into perspective by sharing reputable information resources such as “Predators & Cyberbullies: Reality Check by Larry Magid & Anne Collier at ConnectSafely.org report. He says that teachers need to emphasize that cyberbullying and “reputation destruction” are far more hazardous to students than predators.

Take a look at this video about cyberbullying to see how destructive cyberbullying can be:

As I have prepared this post, I have read many articles defending the use of social networking sites in schools. They have been written to combat the growing fear many school and divisional administrators and school board officials have about various social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. I know that my school division is one of hundreds that currently ban social networking sites from their schools. As Doug Johnson states in his Blue Skunk Blog we need to teach students how to be safe using social networking tools rather than ban them. As Johnson wonders, if we won’t do it, who will?

How am I as an educator dedicated to teaching students how to use Web 2.0 tools effectively and ethically going to teach them these “new literacies” if these sites are banned from schools? Kollie likens this to giving students the keys to the car without being given a license to drive! (p. 2) We need to open the access to these sites so we can model the effective use of social networks and design lessons and programs that teach students how to use social networking sites ethically and responsibly. I believe there is more inherent danger for students to ban these tools in schools than to talk about them openly and honestly.

Will there be bullying online? Will students post too much information on their profiles and pages to put them at risk? Will students post information that will damage either their own or someone else’s reputation? The answer to all three questions is “yes” but the real question is: Will there be less or more of these behaviors if we choose to not talk about them in schools? As Stephen Abram writes in “Scaffolding the new social literacies,” students “are only as safe as the user has the awareness and skills to make good judgments” (p. 1).

Students are drawn to social networking sites because of the connections they make, the content, and the activities they can do there. As they share a part of themselves, they begin to sort out who they are and how they can become contributing members of society. They can also use these sites to show off their creativity and demonstrate what they know (Kollie, p. 2). If students are taught to use social networking sites appropriately, they can provide wonderful learning opportunities for students including global discussions, data sharing and cooperative problem solving (Lamb & Johnson, p. 1).

Through online social networks, students can take charge of their own learning and exert their independence by sharing and debating ideas with a wide audience using a variety of mediums. No longer do they just have to use static web pages to find information. With social networking sites, students can learn to find and build a network of people resources to help them solve problems and make decisions much like they would do in real-life situations.

Students could be encouraged to use social networking sites to ask others about what they missed if they were away from school. They could call upon their classmates to help them complete their homework if there were questions they didn’t understand or maybe they would just like to complete their homework together. I might use social networking in the library as a way of sharing reviews of the latest books. These reviews would be written and/or recorded by students for students. I noticed this week that the Edmonton City Library that they have a Facebook link for patrons directly on their site.

Even though as a teacher I believe that we shouldn’t shy away from using social networking sites in schools, I think teachers need to be extra mindful of what they, themselves, are sharing on online networking sites. As Carter, Foulger and Ewbank remark in their article, “Have you googled your teacher lately?” “It’s difficult to know where privacy ends and professional life begins” (p. 5). Whether we like it or not, teachers are held to a higher moral standard than most of the general population so we need to be extra cautious in this regard. Although I would remind everyone of the same, a good rule of thumb for teachers is to remember that you shouldn’t be posting anything online that you wouldn’t say or show to others in public and as Tracy Mitrano reminds us in her article, “Thoughts on Facebookremember the “Golden Rule:” Don’t say anything about someone else that you would not want said about yourself. After all, what gets posted online stays posted online forever especially when online items can be cached.

I also think that teachers need to be careful with the types of relationships they want to have with their students online. I think teachers might find themselves compromised professionally if they want to carry on “buddy-buddy” online relationships with their students. Again, what you wouldn’t do in the actual classroom, you wouldn’t want to be doing online.

A Social Networking Alternative for Teachers and Students: Nings

If Facebook and MySpace sites just seem too wide open and downright scary, there are alternatives. If teachers are looking to join a professional online network(s) to expand their professional development or professional connections, or if they want to create an online network for their own teachers or students, a Ning is a great alternative. As the National Council of Teachers of English describe in their blog, a Ning is a free online social network that allows you to create or join a customized network based on the needs of a specific group of people.

Since the creator gets to decide who is invited and what they can see and do, a Ning is a more secure online social networking site that might be more acceptable to some, especially to educators. If desired, teachers can approve all postings before they go up, they can delete any groups or discussions that aren’t appropriate, ban members from the network and reverse any decisions they’ve made by clicking a box. If teachers are looking for a way to teach students about online safety, cyberbullying and how to use social networking sites appropriately, this might be a way to start.

I was really impressed with Joyce Valenza’s TeacherLibrarianNetwork Ning. I found her invitation for teacher-librarians to join the group so enticing that I did just that – I signed up and added the site to my Google Reader so I can get regular updates without even having to visit the site. Like other Nings, the TeacherLibrarianNetwork Ning includes many of the same elements as Facebook and MySpace. There is a place to find and connect with members and other groups, you can send private or public messages, upload photos, videos and podcasts, participate in the forums, find out about current library events and post articles on the blog.

After looking at this Ning and viewing some of the other Nings such as The Classroom 2.0 Ning, and its sister site, Ning in Education I decided to ask the music coordinator for our division if he would be interested in setting up a Ning for the band teachers in our school division ( remember I’m also a band teacher; I would have asked our teacher-librarian coordinator if she wanted to set one up as well but she just set up a wiki for the teacher-librarians to communicate with so I thought that was adequate). After explaining what a Ning was and how it could serve as both a professional development tool for his teachers and as a professional relations tool, I gave him a list of several Nings that had a similar purpose that he could examine at his leisure. It will be interesting to see if he takes me up on my offer to help him set up a Ning for his band teachers.

I see tremendous possibilities for using Nings in the classroom.

Nings would be an ideal way of establishing a collaborative learning community within a classroom where all students could share their work and thoughts as equal learning partners. Since they’re online, Nings could also be a way for teachers to keep parents informed about classroom events and share student learning.

As noted in the NCTE Inbox Blog, Nings could be used in the classroom to set up groups based on student interest in any subject. Forums could be established for literature circles and peer writing groups. Gone are the days of boring book reports and presentations since students can use the Ning to attach their work in a variety of mediums such as text, podcasts and multimedia productions like voicethreads and videos. Librarians could set up a Ning to discuss favourite books and genres.

library-thing

If you’re still not convinced that social networking sites are great places to meet people who share common interests, you might want to check out LibraryThing which is a specialized network designed for people who want to share what’s in their personal libraries and find out what others have in their libraries. Members have access to a catalogue of over thirty million titles, they can read book reviews, join specialized groups and can take part in group discussions through a messaging service and post blog entries and comment on all blog postings. If you’re into books, this site is amazing.

shelfariAnother site that I enjoy using as a teacher-librarian and lover of books is Shelfari. Like LibraryThing, Shelfari is a specialized network designed for avid readers and anyone who wants to show off their book collection or their favourite books. You can see what your friends and other people in the network are reading and discover great books in the process.

My Final Thoughts on Social Networking

The fact that so many students are drawn to social networking sites and actively seek them out should be enough indication for educators that they need to do more to understand how to incorporate social networking sites into their daily classroom routines. After all, if you “can’t beat’em” you might as well “join’em” (O’Hanlon, p. 1). I believe that teachers like myself need to “seize the day” and begin to develop authentic learning experiences that infuse the use of this Web 2.0 technology in order to “harness the power of social networking to build rich, interactive, robust learning communities” (New Media Consortium, p. 2). To do this, we must first become comfortable in the social networking world of our students. I believe through this course, I have come one step closer to entering this world and understanding the power of social networking.

References

Abram, S. (Mar./Apr., 2008). Scaffolding the new social literacies. Multimedia and Internet @ Schools, 15(2), p. 1-3. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Carter, H.L., Foulger, T.S., & Ewbank, A.D. (May, 2008). Have you googled your teacher lately? Teachers’ use of social networking sites. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(9), 1-7. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Johnson, D. (Oct. 6, 2008). Facebook – an educational resource? Blue Skunk Blog. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2008/10/7/facebook-an-educational-resource.html

Kollie, E. (Jan., 2007). Social networking: It’s a good thing! School Planning & Management, 46(1), p. 1-3. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Lamb, A., & Johnson, L. (Oct., 2006). Want to be my “friend”? What you need to know about social technologies. Teacher Librarian, 34(1), 1-7. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

New Media Consortium. (Jan., 2007). One year or less; Social networking. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from http://www.nmc.org/horizon/2007/social-networking

O’Hanlon, C. (Aug., 2007). If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” T.H.E. Journal, 34(8), 104. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Richardson, W. (Nov., 2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, 66(3), p. 1-4. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/Footprints_in_the_Digital_Age.aspx

Rosenfeld, E. (Feb., 2008). Expanding your professional network with Nings. Teacher Librarian, 35(3), 1-2. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2008, from the Proquest database.

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“He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.”

Victor Hugo

Last night, my son and I went to see the legendary comedian, Bill Cosby. I’ve loved Bill Cosby since my teens when I would listen to him over and over again on the record player. My son, who aspires to be a comedian some day, discovered the comedy of Bill Cosby on, you guessed it – YouTube – and like me, he watches him over and over again. However, I’ve noticed that there’s a difference between my experience with Cosby and my son’s experience. Whereas I could only imagine what Cosby looked like when he told his stories, my son gets the whole effect – a complete visual and aural experience through video – and that, I admit, conveys a powerful emotional punch.

Before the days of YouTube and various other multimedia sharing sites that have cropped up in the past three or four years, to be successful, comedians would have to have been “discovered” by an executive of a large television network or broadcasting corporation. Although this still holds true to some extent today, now anyone with a microphone, video recording device and Internet access can share their stories with anyone around the world. In essence, they are now empowered to do their own advertising and don’t have to wait to be discovered by the powers that be.

There are numerous instances in the past few years where the average person has risen to instant fame (albeit it often very short-lived fame) due to a video they have posted online. Free, multimedia online sites that allow you to create and share audio, images and video are booming. Such sites also allow you to add user profiles, give ratings, tag favorites and add comments (Lamb, p. 2). No longer do the videos you create have to be stored on your own computer using up valuable file space.

Now it is possible to upload media onto online servers which allow others to view your work or allow you to post your video to your own websites, blogs, wikis and other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. As the Participatory Media Guidebook point outs, if you had to pay for your own hosting and distributing infrastructure for multimedia, it would be very expensive and require a lot of technical expertise to maintain. But now even young children can combine words, pictures, sounds, animation and video into “persuasive, powerful and empowering communication vehicles that can be shared with millions around the world.”

The Art of Storytelling

One of the reasons why Bill Cosby has been so successful over the past fifty years is that he is a masterful storyteller. The comedian, Chris Rock, when he mentors young comics, passes on a lesson he learned from watching Cosby: “It is not the punch line, dude. It is the setup!” (Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 30, 2008, p. D4). Cosby has a way of taking the stories of his life or life in general and spinning them into tales that engage the audience in a very personal way. He knows that life is full of stories. Our stories are the threads that connect our past to our present and will influence us in the future. They help us make sense of our lives and connect us with others in ways that both touch the soul and the mind.

Like Cosby, we’ve always told our stories about our lives and what we know to be true and we will continue to tell them through traditional methods but now, with the advent of various free Web 2.0 multimedia creating and sharing sites such as voicethread and jumpcut, if we have the skills and knowledge we can tell and share our stories in a new and exciting way – through the digital world via the World Wide Web.

“Digital storytelling is a modern take on an oral and written tradition that traces back to early human history as a way of passing down institutional knowledge and beliefs from generation to generation” (Bolch, p. 2).

Like paintings, digital stories that mix images, graphics, sound, and music with the author’s own storytelling voice will exist over time and be enjoyed long past their creation. The digital story is organized around the author’s own voice as the centerpiece of content while “artistically dancing multisensory elements into personal understandings about self, family, knowledge, ideas, events, or experiences.”

The Multimedia Learning Experience

Students can now use cutting-edge technology to bring the age-old art of storytelling from the spoken and written tradition into the digital age” (Bolch, p. 1). Since we know that the digital world is where our students are often most comfortable, using Web 2.0 tools to share their insights and knowledge can be powerful learning tools. The lessons learned through the creation of multimedia presentations can help students understand the multifaceted media world they find themselves in, demonstrate their knowledge in any subject and make connections as contributing members of society with the world around them.

As students tell their own personal stories of what they know and understand, digital storytelling gives them a chance to display their learning and connect with others who may have had similar experiences. The storyteller is able to weave his or her voice into an unfolding multimedia experience and in the process, touch the hearts of those who view it. In this way, the creator becomes connected to the audience and humanity as a whole.

By its very definition, multimedia presentations are excellent learning tools since they engage and affect students on so many levels – emotionally, intellectually and physically (if stories are acted out). When any combination of text, sound, pictures or motion video are displayed at the same time, the stories that are told create a powerful punch. Like Block (p. 2), I have witnessed on a personal level that students who are not usually engaged with traditional teaching methods suddenly become engaged when teachers allow students to express what they have learned using multimedia tools. Multimedia projects give all students an opportunity to express themselves creatively in a medium they are used to and they take a greater sense of ownership of the learning process since they know their work will be viewed by others. In “This Digital Storytelling,” author Angela Zukowski writes that creativity is a by-product of the multimedia medium since the resources available to the creator are “virtually limitless” (p. 1).

Digital storytelling brings multiple skills, challenges and benefits to the learning process. Designing information requires learning a new type of grammar beyond writing words that helps students to deepen their understanding of content while increasing their visual, sound, oral language and information literacy skills.” Memory structures are enhanced as students must organization information into a logical format and tell what they know to be true. Digital storytelling gives students a chance to reflect on the material as it relates to them and therefore “find deep connections with the subject matter of a course” (Zukowski, p. 2). As Robert Shanks states in “Tell Me a Story,” the stories created will then be remembered by the creators for the rest of their lives because it has become a part of them.

It is through the process of reflecting and shaping the telling of the storytelling of what we know and understand from an event or topic that provides a “sense-making” process that stays with the learner over time. Some learning theorists believe that storytelling can be applied effectively to nearly any subject (Zukowski, p. 1). The more information that comes at us the more we need to take the time to think and reflect on what that information means to us. Digital storytelling allows us to do this.

As I was preparing this blog post, I came across an interesting article about two college professors, Annie Prud’homme Genereux and William A. Thompson, who decided to try a new type of reflective tool as a way of having students describe what they had learned on a particular topic in their course. Up until this time, they had used more traditional reflective practices such as journaling but these were not sparking much enthusiasm. What they found after having students generate reflections of their course using a multimedia tool was that the students were far more engaged in the process, they appreciated learning a new skill and being able to express themselves in a creative way and they had a lot of fun in the process.

Zukowski believes that the deeper impact of digital storymaking comes not so much from developing proficiency with multimedia applications but learning how to think critically about media. He writes, “We want students not only to learn with media, but also to learn and think critically about media. Digital stories provide powerful media-literacy learning opportunities because students are involved in the creation and analysis of the media in which they are immersed” (p. 3). The educational organization called YouthLearn emphasizes this point. On their website they state that preparing students for life in the 21st century as global citizens means ensuring that they are literate in media methods. They believe that the more students know about the intention behind various media and how to interpret content, the more they’ll begin to use technology as a tool for their own self-expression and personal development.”

What Do I Mean by “Stories”?

By stories, I do not mean just the type that students write as a form of personal expression although they can be. I use the term “digital storytelling” to encompass a wide range of communication formats including narrative, information/expository, persuasive, participatory and reflective writing. According to Digitales, a wide variety of digital stories can be created using multimedia formats such as personal stories, myths and folk tales, short stories (narrative), summary reports, book reports, how-to directions, biographies/autobiographies (information/expository), advertisements, describe/conclude, analyze/conclude, analyze/persuade, compare/contrast, cause/effect (persuasive), opinion (participatory) and reflecting.

Specific Ideas For Multimedia Learning

Before embarking on a multimedia production with students, I would suggest checking out some sites that have examples of student multimedia work. Two wonderful sites I found for this purpose were Apple Student Gallery and

Adobe Digital Kids Club. If you’re looking for tips, storytelling techniques, lessons and activities and training, I would suggest you take a look at the following sites:

Abobe Digital Kids Club Lessons and Activities

YouthLearn: Lessons and Activites

YouthLearn: Teaching Multimedia Skills

Digitales

Within the Digital site, there are several examples of multimedia lessons and activities. These include:

Personal Stories: Creating Living Memories Around Defining Moments of Life

Kinship Stories: Family Stories of Who We Are

Hyper-Interactive Stories: Group Stories with Diverse Paths and Endings Personal Expression: Creating Visual Expressions of Thoughts and Feelings

Myths, Legends and Tales: Past, Present and Future of Self, Family or Ideas

Informative or Expository Stories: Information Beyond Words

Persuasive Stories: Influencing and Impacting Others

Itza Wrap: Stories of Lessons Learned

Future Vision Stories: Imagining the Future Now

Conclusion

Digital storytelling gives everyone a unique experience of discovering their own voice and talents. Along the way, students discover that they have something worth sharing with others and multimedia sharing sites make this possible. From what I have witnessed in my own school, using multimedia to share individual stories and demonstrate learning are powerful ways of learning. Although they take time to produce, the results are well worth it!

References (Other Than Those Hyperlinked)

Bolch, M. (May, 2008). Show and tell. T.H.E. Journal, 35(5), 1-4. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Genereux, A.P. , & Thompson, W.A. (Jul,/Aug,, 2008). Lights, camera, reflection! Digital movies: A tool for reflective learning. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(6), 21-25. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Lamb, A. (Dec., 2007). Video and the web, part 2: Sharing and social networking. Teacher Librarian, 35(2), 1-7. Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Zukowski, A.A. (Feb./Mar., 2008). This digital storytelling. Momentum, 39(1), 1-4). Retrieved Oct. 28, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

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