I wasn’t originally intending on taking this course. Whether it was it fate that brought me to it or just a stroke of good luck, I’ll never know but I am grateful to have been a part of this intensive, cutting-edge learning experience. The course I was scheduled to take this semester in my teacher-librarianship program at the University of Alberta had been cancelled so I found myself at loose ends deciding what to do next. The coordinator of the program, Dr. Jennifer Branch, suggested I give a new course “Exploring Web 2.0 Tools for Schools and Libraries” a try. At first, I was reluctant because many of the tools she listed that were going to be explored throughout the course I was already familiar with and in some cases, already use in the classroom. However, after consulting with the instructor, Joanne De Groot, I decided that there was enough about Web 2.0 that I felt I could explore so I decided to sign up and the rest, as they say, is history.

Early Struggles

Needless to say, I was not intimidated by the various Web 2.0 tools that were listed in the course outline. In fact, I was more concerned about how I was going to demonstrate my learning on tools that I have already taught to teachers or students. In hindsight, however, I had nothing to worry about since it quickly became apparent shortly into the course that there was always way more to learn about the tools and how they could be used effectively in the classroom and there was no shortage of Web 2.0 tools that I could explore to extend my learning.

What did intimidate me at the beginning of the course was the amount of postings I was going to have to write for my blog and that my postings were going to be read by others. I know that I am a very slow writer and I like lots of time to edit my work so the thought of having to write a detailed post every week, never mind a post interesting enough for others to want to read, scared me. To cope with this fear, I decided a few weeks into the course to not look at my marks for my posts. I decided that this put too much pressure on me as a writer and I figured that as long as I was learning, this was what was important so marks became irrelevant to the process. To be honest, I don’t think I ever completely lost my fear of having others read my work but it lessened somewhat because I was just too busy to worry about it.

In the beginning, I also found it difficult to determine who my audience was and find my own voice or style. Part of this struggle was due to my lack of knowledge of what a blog was and how a blog could be used as a learning tool. I came to the course with a definite idea, dare I say bias, about what a blog is. Having never read a blog before, I thought a blog was a place where people talk about their lives, the people they know and perhaps their plans for the future – all boring topics in my opinion. In school, I have seen blogs used effectively as spaces to post class information, assignments and as ePortfolios but never as complex, higher level thinking tools.

Even the title I chose for my blog “EDES 501 Web 2.0 Learning Log” showed that I had little understanding of a blog as a tool for learning. I thought my blog was going to be a place where I kept track of my learning much like a quantitative, scientific “log” and my blogging days would be over at the end of the course. Since I had assumed coming into the process that it was the personal information in blogs that I didn’t like, when I first created my blog, I didn’t even want my name to appear on the front page. Little did I know that I might want to continue blogging after the course and that it’s the personal “touch” that connects your blog to your readers and makes them want to keep coming back for more.

Making Progress

Although I’ve yet to reach the complex blogging stage, I think I’ve certainly progressed as a blogger throughout the course. I believe that there were four main reasons for this progression: 1) I became more comfortable with the format and found my personal writing voice; 2) I read a lot of other complex bloggers like Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, David Warlick and Doug Johnson who helped me to get a sense of what blogging is all about and how to draw readers in; 3) I read the blogs of my fellow students who taught me a lot about the blogging process; and 4) I found my audience.

Interestingly enough, it was the process of finding my audience that led me in the direction of a complex blogger the most. At first, it seemed logical to me that I write my blog for my instructor and fellow classmates. Over time, however, when individuals outside the course began to leave me comments on my blog, I felt more a part of the edublogosphere and I could tell my feelings about the value of blogging beginning to change. No longer was I a casual observer but now I was a valued participant and that made all the difference in the world to me as a blogger. No longer was I just writing for my instructor and classmates but I began writing for anyone who is as passionate about Web 2.0, education and libraries as I am. I can tell you that when someone like Doug Johnson notices your work, you feel that you just might have something of value to add to the combined knowledge of the world and your blogging takes on new meaning.

Highlights and Lessons from my Classmates

By reading the blogs of my fellow classmates, I have been given an amazing amount of ideas on how to use the various Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. I can honestly say that I have learned almost as much about Web 2.0 by reading my classmates’ blogs as I have writing my own. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to my classmates on how much thought they have put into how these tools can be used in the classroom and I will be referring to their work often in the future. I feel so privileged to have been a part of this dynamic community of learners. Throughout the process, I have appreciated their honesty, humour, questions and critical thinking they put into their blogs. Among many other things, they were the ones who taught me the benefit of finding just the right title to catch my audience’s attention. They also showed me how powerful quotes can be used to “drive home a point” or capture the essence of the post.

Most of all, by reading my classmates blogs, I have witnessed first hand how powerful blogs can be used as a learning tool and how showing your personal side creates a connection with your reader and allows learning to happen and grow. Each week, I eagerly awaited reading their posts to find out how their week went and what they had learned. If there hadn’t been a personal connection established, I don’t think I would have been half as interested in reading and responding to their posts as I was. It will be interesting to see whether this learning relationship continues into the future through the powerful sharing tools of Web 2.0.

Overall, my favourite part of the course was learning the tools each week and thinking about how they might be used in an educational setting. In fact, I found that the more tools I tried the more fun I began to have. Although I don’t consider myself to be an expert in any of the tools, by getting hands-on experience with various Web 2.0 tools, I am now confident enough to sort out any problems I might encounter with them (or new ones) in the future. I am also amazed at my new-found confidence in trying new Web 2.0 tools. I feel like I’ve gotten to the stage of some of my students and children who seem to lack any inhibitions when trying new digital applications. I know I’ll never be a “digital native” quite like them but I feel that I’ve come a long way in terms of understanding who they are and what makes them excited about learning.

I find it ironic that the tools I was frustrated the most with I found the most rewarding to learn. I really struggled with creating my podcast and screencast both from a technical and creative standpoint but I was pleased with the results. I believe that both of these tools have a lot of potential in the classroom as learning tools and I’m glad I persevered. I will be taking part in my school division’s inaugural teacher-librarian podcast in January and I hope that I will be a valuable resource. I have already suggested to our teacher-librarian and technology consultants who will both be involved in the podcast that they look no further than the posts on podcasting from this course to find out more information on how podcasting works and how podcasts can be used in an educational setting.

In this course, I also enjoyed having an opportunity to examine virtual libraries. Although not specifically a Web 2.0 tool, I believe that a virtual library is an integral part of an effective school library program. As a busy teacher-librarian I’ve never had the opportunity to examine virtual libraries in detail so this was a great opportunity for me to do just that. I will certainly be referring to my post and the posts of my fellow students on virtual libraries when I have the opportunity in the future to redesign my virtual library. I have to admit to being thrilled to have been contacted by the creator of one of the virtual libraries I admired and critiqued for my post. That was one of the moments in this course that I felt I had “arrived” as a blogger.

Frustrations

My greatest frustration in this course was not with any one tool or concept but with the filtering system in my school division and the fact that all the programs I needed to download such as Audacity and Picasa, I had to put in an IT work order. Thank goodness I have the power to unblock sites at my school otherwise I would have gone out of my mind with frustration. All the blogs and nings I wanted to follow for this course were initially blocked as was my WordPress blog, YouTube, Facebook, Del.icio.us, Jumpcut, Twitter, parts of iGoogle, and Gmail. If we are going to be able to teach students with and about these tools, we need to have access to them! Enough said.

Future Plans

In the future, I anticipate that I will change the title of my blog (I have no idea to what yet), and continue to write about issues related to teacher-librarians and Web 2.0. Even though I know that my next course will not involve a blog, I think I might post my work anyways to keep my blogging experience “alive.” I have been asked by the Manitoba School Library Association to attach my blog to their site so it will be important to keep new ideas flowing. I will also link my blog to our school division’s teacher-librarian wiki so our teacher-librarians can become involved in the blogging process, as well. I am also on my school and school division’s professional development committees and in the future, I might suggest using blogs or wikis to support professional learning groups.

As a member of the divisional technology team, I hope that I will be able to share my knowledge about the benefits of Web 2.0 and how to integrate these tools in the classroom with teachers within my school division. I also hope to share my new-found knowledge with my fellow teacher-librarians at the divisional level at our monthly meetings. I suppose if I keep blogging, I might be able to help and learn from teacher-librarians who live anywhere, for that matter!

As stated in my previous blog post, my immediate future plans in regard to technology will be to educate my staff and students about the benefits of RSS feeds. I believe that this will help my staff see the “big picture” and encourage them to become fully committed to using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Although a few teachers have begun to use blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and multimedia applications such as voicethreads and digital stories in their classrooms, I hope that as the teacher-librarian, I can begin introducing how photosharing, podcasting, screencasting, and social networking sites can be used, as well. Since formal professional development time is limited, I will do this primarily on a one-to-one “mentoring” basis as the opportunity arises.

To keep myself up-to-date on Web 2.0 issues and technology, I will continue to read my RSS feeds religiously. I will also be adding some feeds that relate directly to teacher-librarian. Fortunately, several of my classmates have given me some great ideas of whose library-related blogs I might add to my aggregator so it won’t take me long to get started.

Final Thoughts

I have come to see in this course that the power of blogging as a learning tool is dependent upon the types of connections the blogger makes with its readers. It’s this sharing aspect of read/write web in all the tools we’ve worked with in this course that makes these connections possible and this is the exciting part for teachers and students. Now there are countless ways for teachers and students to share their learning, connect with others, and add to the collective knowledge of the world. I am grateful to have learned first-hand the sharing power of Web 2.0 and look forward to sharing my knowledge with others my fellow teachers and students in the future.

Thanks Joanne and Jennifer for giving my fate a push in the right direction so I could take this course.

Jo-Anne

p.s. My students thank you, too!

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