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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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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