Photo Credit: mini panic http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=serendipity&page=2

 

 

Serendipity…it’s a word I don’t often hear or use but it seems to keep popping up in several of the blogs that I’ve examined as I prepare to launch my own learning weblog.  Already I have had the good fortune to stumble upon some unexpected treasures as I have made my way through only a minute fraction of the collective stores of information and wisdom found on the pathway we both love and hate. 

 

 

Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “we” love and hate the Internet but I know as both a private consumer and teacher “I” certainly have a love/hate relationship with the World Wide Web and I think most others do, as well.  Read what writer and fellow blogger, Monika Mundell, has to say about information overload and what she tries to do to manage it. 

 

There’s just so much information out there and even though I love the unexpected discoveries and the “cool” things that can be accomplished in the digital world, the enormity of the medium and the speed at which technology changes simply frightens me.  How does one organize and keep track of themselves in a digital world?  I hope that this course will help me to discover at least some of the secrets to keeping myself organized electronically.

 

As a teacher-librarian responsible for imparting the information literacy skills my 600 or so junior high students will need to succeed in high school and into the future, I know I need to get a handle on the various Web 2.0 tools that quite frankly, many of my students are already using in their day-to-day lives, and begin to think about ways in which the technology tools of today and beyond can energize and improve the quality of education our students are currently receiving and help them to manage their digital lives.  When I watched the video on Joanne de Groot’s Web 2.0 Trailfire “A Vision of Students Today,” I realized just how much we as teachers need to do to prepare the students of tomorrow and how far many of us need to go.

 

It almost seems shameful in today’s world to admit that I am a linear thinker but a linear thinker I am – no doubt a product of both the time I was educated in the public school system and the way I was taught.  When I look at my own children (ages 13, 16 and 16) and the students at the Canadian school I teach at, I can see that despite our best efforts to teach them primarily in a linear fashion, they crave to learn in a new way.   Our children have grown up in the information age and seemingly have little trouble multi-tasking.  My sons can surf the web, talk to their friends on MSN, download video or music files, and prepare a multi-media project for school all seemingly at the same time.  It appears from what I’ve read on the web that my sons are far from unique.  Check out Tom Brigham’s thoughts on “How to Train Multitaskers.” Has your experience as a teacher or parent been any different?  I wholeheartedly agree with Doug Johnson, an educator dedicated to using technology effectively in the classroom, that it’s time for us teachers, at least, to acknowledge the uniqueness of today’s learners and instead of trying to change them, we should be putting our efforts into trying to change the way we are attempting to educate them.   

 

I can think of no better way to learn about the collaborative learning tools of Web 2.0 than to use one of those tools – a blog – to learn, collaborate, reflect and organize my thoughts about how they can be used in the classroom to improve student achievement and help me manage my information overload in the process.  I agree with Miguel Guhlin in his article “The CTO Challenge: Building Your Personal Learning Network,”  that we have two choices regarding technology: ignore it completely, which is as effective as “ignoring an oncoming truck,” or “seize the wheel and create our own learning network.”  From blogging, to photo sharing, video sharing, social bookmarking, podcasting, virtual libraries, wikis, multimedia sharing, social networking sites and RSS feeds, this course offered by the University of Alberta Teacher-Librarianship Distance Learning program is sure to be a valuable, first-hand learning experience (if not a tad bit anxiety provoking experience) which will surely help me to understand how these tools can help students learn and succeed in the classroom.

 

This blog is not the first I have constructed but it is the first blog that I will be an active participant in and that shift feels, at least initially, very different and exciting.  I can already see a transformation in my thinking from blogs as a passive storage of thoughts and information to a dynamic, creative, collaborative, critical thinking entity much like Bill Richardson discusses in his book, Blogs Wikis and Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (p. 20).

 

The first blog I set up was a collaborative effort between three teacher-librarians.  Our purpose in setting up a blog was to find a forum in which our students from different schools could discuss the books they were reading for the Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards.  At first we tried www.blogger.com to set up our blog but we did not like the choices offered for moderating comments.  We wanted to be able to moderate our own students’ comments and our only option was to have the comments moderated by only one of the teacher-librarians via email and this didn’t seem fair to put this on just one teacher’s plate.  On a suggestion by another colleague, we then turned to November Learning Communities http://nlcommunities.com/ blog hosting site and although we had a little difficulty getting our password at first (we had to email them and wait a few days for a response), it was relatively easy to set up our blog and moderate the comments by logging into the blog as administrators.  This blog can be viewed at: http://nlcommunities.com/communities/myrca07/

 

The November Learning Community templates are limited, however, and attaching pictures is not as easy as I would like it to be so for my own learning blog, I decided to check out other blog hosting sites.  I highly recommend checking out at least some of the blogs found at the edublog awards site for numerous examples of how engaging blogs as learning tools can be.  As I examined the various blogs, I made a list of the features I wanted to have in my own blog so that when the time came to build my own blog, I would be ready.

 

Before making my decision on which blog hosting site to use, I also discussed blogging sites with the technology teacher at our school who uses blogs primarily as e-Portfolios in his grade 9 English class.  He really likes blogger.com because the students can sign in using nicknames which improves privacy and it’s easy for students to create blogs and download various media onto the blogs which they really like.  Check these examples out of two of his students’ work:  http://divyasportfolio.blogspot.com/2008/05/slap.html  http://www.amycraigportfolio.blogspot.com/  Aren’t they amazing!  I wish I was that creative!  One problem we have at our school which I’m sure many of you have is that many of the blogging sites are blocked.  I find it ironic that “the powers that be” who want us to be up on the latest teaching techniques are the very ones who are responsible for blocking the majority of the Web 2.0 tools want to use!  Last year I went to a school-based in-service on creating blogs using blogger.com and when I went back to my school to try it, the site was blocked.  How frustrating is that! Has that been your experience at your school, too? 

 

Since I was already familiar with blogger.com and judging from my technology teacher’s success with it, I decided to give blogger.com a try.  In a relatively short period of time I was able to create this blog However, I wasn’t entirely happy with the limited number of templates on blogger and I felt it important that with my blog I wanted to “catch the readers attention” and these templates just didn’t do this for me.  From what I had seen viewing other blogs, I also wanted to have a highly visible “search” button at the top of the sidebar and be able to “tag” comments to keep them organized. I thought I had seen these features on some of the sites listed in the edublog awards site I had viewed previously so I revisited the site to find out what hosting site they used. I also thought that since I already knew how to use blogger.com, maybe it was a good time to try something else and compare the suitability of various blogging sites for educational purposes.

 

It turns out that many of the award-winning sites I had seen such as  Extreme Biology Blog (nominated for Best Teacher Blog) and dy/dan’s blog (nominated for Best Individual Edublog) were hosted by http://wordpress.com.  When I went to check out making a blog using wordpress, I was immediately struck by the number of templates there was to choose from and it had the option of a visible search button. To be honest, however, I did find my anxiety level rising with the wordpress site since I was not as familiar with it as blogger.  Fortunately, I was able to use the “help” button to get me out of any jams I was having as I built my blog.  I think the level of help offered with any blogging site should be an important consideration for any first-time bloggers as should be the amount of file space provided by the hosting organization. 

 

In the end, I was surprised at how little time it took to set up a half-decent looking blog with a few apps to make the site fully functioning.  In terms of initial set-up, blogger is definitely easier but I’ll have to see whether the various features on wordpress will make using it in the classroom more attractive in the long run.  Is there anyone who has used both and has found one better than the other?  I would love to hear from you.

 

It is my goal in this class to learn more and help others learn more about the various Web 2.0 tools currently available and how they can best be used in the classroom to promote student learning. I hope that this blog will serve as a means of documenting my own learning.  If you, too, care about these things as an educator in today’s wired world, I invite you to come along on my Web 2.0 journey and learn with me.  Perhaps we can all learn to enjoy all those serendipitous moments in a way that our/my linear brain(s) can handle!