Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Barriers to Change in ICT

Do ICTs in and of themselves lead to more constructivist styles of teaching, and if so, how does this affect the diffusion of innovation in a traditional context, such as in a developing country? The change in pedagogy could be the biggest change of all, rather than getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of the hardware/software.

While researching for a Masters assignment about ICT diffusion in Africa (the NEPAD E-schools Initiative in particular), I came across this article by Bude Su, which looks at exactly this issue, comparing traditional and constructivist approaches. 

Barriers to adoption involving the technology itself (and the training and support they entail) are called first-order barriers, which are solved by the introduction of the technology and support systems. In other words, if there is no access to the internet, this first order barrier can be solved by introducing wireless capability, for example.

Second-order barriers, on the other hand, are those which are "deeply rooted in teachers’ pedagogical and psychological beliefs about teaching and learning" and these barriers are more fundamental. One of the most tragic responses to the introduction of the amazing technology we find ourselves surrounded by is to apply their use based on the old assumptions about how learning happens. Su argues that only a systemic approach is likely to overcome these barriers and this takes time and commitment.

"Making such fundamental changes is surely a challenge for many teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders. However, we know such a systemic change is doable as there are successful cases in the literature. Fullan (1993, p.26) remind us over a decade ago that “successful schools do not have fewer problems than other schools – they just cope with them better”. If educators use a systemic approach to deal with both first- and second-order barriers, success will ultimately come."

Any implementation of e-learning initiatives, whether in developing or developed countries must focus as much, if not more, on the pedagogy (how to fish) than the tools (the fish). 

Su, B. (2009). Effective Technology Integration: Old Topic, New Thoughts. International Journal of Education and Development using ICT [Online], 5(2). Available: 

Image credit: Computer Lab, Vukani Primary School, by teachandlearn,

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Digital Divide: Web 2.0 just for rich kids?

I've blogged here before about my doubts about just how relevant digital technology really is when compared with some of the immense problems in the world, such as hunger, child labour and extreme poverty. My thoughts have been heading in this direction once more recently, especially as I have been planning a Social Studies unit on child labour. 

I've found huge amounts of material and ideas that I could use with my class, with this World Vision site 'Born to be Free', and this child labour webquest being most helpful. Yet the content of these and other sites has been almost overwhelming. Seeing such hopelessness and despair forces me to consider what my response needs to be. And there needs to be a response.

To be honest, it really made me wonder if I was doing my masters degree in the right area. I had to ask myself, "Is this just a degree in cool gadgets for rich kids?"

So I had a hunt around over the last week on the internet to see what was out there in terms of the role of ICTs in development contexts, where perhaps these equity issues are at their most extreme and I was surprised to find a whole field that I didn't know existed. It is known as ICT4D, or ICT for development, and is focused exactly on bridging the digital divide that exists between the haves and the have-nots.

The wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the field and provides some links for those who want to explore further. This ICT4D wiki has a huge number of links to resources, journals, blogs, people, and institutions, all devoted to ICT4D.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a good example of an organisation, which, with corporate sponsorship from the likes of Google, Apple and others, is trying "To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning."

 (Image credit: Kicukiro2 by OLPC, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License)

At first I was a little cynical about this. After all, these people need food, not web 2.0, right? Well, yes, obviously in the most dire cases. Yet access to education and information is fundamental to escaping poverty. I highly recommend this short video, Zimi's Story, about the effect having one of these laptops has had.

Of course the digital divide exists not only on an international scale, but locally as well. One only has to look at the amazing work done by Dorothy Burt and the crew at Pt England School to see the impact that effective use of digital technology can have on motivation and learning in a low socioeconomic context.

My current paper is called 'Change with Digital Technologies in Education', and I think there will be scope to really explore some of these issues in much greater depth. In fact, I'd like to gear the remainder of my course in this direction, if at all possible (and I think it will be).

Digital technologies are not just for 'rich kids'. They are a tool with the potential to really change lives around and provide a way out of poverty.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Classblogmeister: Motivating with ClustrMaps

I've blogged here before, on a personal level, about how motivating it can be to have a real sense of audience. If you know that what you are writing is going to be read, there is much more chance that what you write will be written with that audience in mind. Hopefully this results in a more interesting, coherent and well-structured post.

It is easy to feel, when blogging, that you're speaking to an empty room, and unless there is some way of knowing who is 'out there', it is easy to lose that drive. The statement below can be easy to believe, and can sap motivation:

However, I have really seen evidence with my class of how proof of audience can increase motivation. Classblogmeister has a built-in feature which allows student to see how many times their post has been read.

You can see that this post has been read 111 times. I didn't point this feature out to my students, but it didn't take them long to find it (rather excitedly, I might add!).

Early on I wanted to capitalise on this motivation by having them add ClustrMaps to their blogs.  To guide them through the process I made a page explaining how to add a ClustrMap to a classblogmeister blog, which went through the steps and included screenshots of what they needed to do.

I followed this with an example, using one of my learners' blogs. This helped most of them understand what was required. I was surprised by how easy they learnt how to do this, and this skill will be useful for them later when they wish to add other kinds of widgets as well. My learners were enthusiastic about this, and when I suggested that they tell any family or friends living overseas about their blog, they seemed very keen to do so, so they could start seeing little red dots appear on their map.

These ClustrMaps also came to me for moderation, and were incredibly easy to approve using the New Approval Tool on the teacher account. I was able to approve as they came in and had them all done in about 15 minutes.

One morning I called over one of my students after noticing her Clustrmap was indicating some international attention (still not sure why this one in particular received so much attention!). She was blown away by the thought that she was being read on a number of continents. I asked her if she felt more motivated to blog again having seen that: "Definitely!" came the response, giving another reason why blogging is such an effective writing tool.

Friday, June 26, 2009

And now for a little perspective...

In the midst of all the hoohaa about swine flu, it's worth keeping in mind some of the world's other problems...

(Image credit:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Building Planes in the Air

I love this. I believe this is such a great metaphor for what we are trying to achieve as teachers. As tempting as it may be to try to keep the plane on the ground until it's perfect, we need to get our kids flying, and do the rest while we're up there.

Hat tip: Peggy Lee

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Getting started with Classblogmeister

Before we went ahead with the set up of the students' own blogs, we had a good discussion about what blogs were and how they were used, as well as addressing some issues of internet safety.    

To see how much they already knew I elicited from them the features of a blog that might distinguish it from other kinds of websites: 


The ideas in green are those they came up with at first. Those in purple are what they added after watching the following short video from CommonCraft, 'Blogs in Plain English'.

To introduce the class to the set-up process I demonstrated this using a data projector. Firstly I showed them the main class blog and where they could find posts, comments, links, and importantly, the link to their own blog (as yet unactivated). I set up a dummy student blog that I could use as an example, called C3B4Me, and used this to show them what to do.

In order to make the steps really clear, I gave them a hard copy of a document that I adapted from the Commlab wiki, which takes students through the process step by step with screen shots along the way.

Students also had to choose a name for their blog. I showed them my blogroll on this blog, to give them an idea of the kinds of names they could choose (eg play on words, focus on particular interest etc.). We also discussed the kind of things they could and could not write in the 'About Me' section. All of them seemed to have got the message in our Internet Safety discussion, as they talked about not giving any identifying information, but including some interests. Some even put fake locations (eg Brunei) here, although when we put on a ClustrMap that may blow their cover!

One concern I had here was being unsure whether the 'About Me' section also came to me for approval, along with blog posts and comments. Blogmeister have set up a Ning for educators who are blogging with Blogmeister, and this has a forum (along with some other very useful things like video tutorials). I posted this question on the forum and received a reply within ten minutes, which informed me that this information does indeed come to the teacher for approval and is very easy to approve using the New Approval Tool on the main blog.

This is a key advantage of Classblogmeister for learner bloggers - EVERYTHING comes past the teacher first, yet it is possible to relax this later on when students demonstrate their competence. Perhaps student bloggers could work towards a solo 'blogging license'!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Classblogmeister, Parental Consent and Internet Safety

When setting up our Classblogmeister project, one of my initial considerations was the importance of getting parents onboard with this project. Parents often have reservations about their children having an online presence, due to fears about cyber-bullying and predators.

Here are some of the websites I found that had good resources and example letters for informing parents of the intention of the project and how internet safety concerns could be addressed:

1. Bud's Blogging Parent Letter - a useful starting point, easily adapted. He also has this letter, which I largely based my letter on.
2. Beyond School has a great letter and rationale, giving parents options for privacy settings.
3. This one from Ed Warkentin specifically addresses Classblogmeister.
4. Andrew Churches published this excellent Acceptable Use Agreement on his blog that he developed for his school, which is based on the concept of digital citizenship: protect and respect yourself and others, and do not steal (E.g. plagiarise). Unfortunately, I had already gained parental consent when this was published, so I was unable to use it this time.

I found that there are many resources, blog posts, wikis, articles about internet safety in regard to blogging as well as more generally.

When discussing these issues with the class I found the following two short videos very effective.



We followed this viewing with a discussion about 'digital footprints', and how once you put something online you lose control over it. Many of the students had conceived of the Internet as a private space, rather than a public space in which the notions they hold of privacy may not apply. Prior to watching, several had expressed regret at the fact that we were to have rules about what we could and could not post online. Afterwards, they all understood the necessity of this.

These videos made a strong impression on the class. Several of those who have social networking sites said they wanted to get home as quickly as possible to change their security settings, delete information and photographs, or in one case, delete their account altogether! My basic advice was this: do not put anything on the internet that you would not want your parents, teacher or future employer (etc.) to see.

Once the point had been made, a lot of the students wanted to share their stories about people they knew who had had bad experiences as a result of inappropriate things being posted online. As a teacher I needed to acknowledge the real dangers that exist, without scaremongering. The key point is that learners need to have awareness in order to make safe decisions.

As a result of this conversation we developed some rules for blogging. I had previously found a number of good websites with suggested blogging rules, and had harvested the relevant ones, so I was able to guide the conversation in this direction.

Websites I found particularly useful were:
1. This page by Ann Davis outlining their elementary safe-blogging policy.
2. Arapahoe High School Safe Blogging Policy

One observation I had when I introduced the way Classblogmeister worked was that I met with some resistance from several students to the idea of me moderating their blog posts/comments. Examples of such comments are:
"But I don't want to you to see my post."
"Why do we have to send it to you first?"
"I can do whatever I like on my page!"

To each of these comments I explained the nature of the blogs we were using. That is, that the blogs are a classroom space and should be treated as such. They are not private Bebo or Facebook pages, which they might also use. In the same way as I collect their exercise books and give feedback, I will look at their blogs and show them how to improve them.

It may be the case that these learners consider their online experience to be something completely within their control, out-of-school, and without relation to what is done at school, and therefore have difficulty conceiving of an online experience like blogging that is an integral part of a classroom programme. I have never seen a student as defensive over an exercise book as some were over their blog!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Deciding on Classblogmeister

One of my first decisions with my class blogging project was which blogging platform to use.

My first choice was Blogger, because I have seen it used successfully for student blogs in NZ and overseas, and it is the blogging platform that I use for this blog. Because of this I am confident with its features and how to use it effectively and so wouldn't be starting as a beginner. I also found a number of useful resources on the internet about how to set up blogging with students using Blogger, such as this set-up guide from Rachel Boyd.

My reasons for deciding against it were primarily because as a teacher starting out with class blogging, and with students unfamiliar with the blogging process, I wanted maximum control over what ended up online. I also wanted an option that reassured parents of their children's safety and which allowed me to give effective feedback.  Using Classblogmeister is like blogging with training wheels on at first, which is exactly what I wanted for my class. 

There are a number of blogging platforms specifically designed for educational use, including:
1. Edublogs
2. 21Classes
3. Gaggle
4. Classblogmeister

This blog post by Mark Ahlness was pivotal in winning me over to classblogmeister. As he says in his post,

First, it's not blocked. Next, it offers TOTAL teacher approval before any student post or comment on a student post (take that, MySpace fear mongers). Teachers can leave online feedback for students to improve their writing (like if they want to get it published) that is hidden from public view. Next, it's free (thanks to David W's generosity). It also has a very active list on Yahoo! Groups for sharing and problem solving. Last, I have never, in 25 years of teaching, seen a more powerful classroom tool for motivating students to write. Nothing else even comes close. It is the perfect blogging tool for teachers.

Despite this glowing endorsement, I had reservations, mostly revolving around my first impressions of the visual appeal of the website (as shallow as that may seem!). It seemed to lack the clean, user-friendly look of 21classes and Edublogs. Nevertheless, from what I'd read I believed it was definitely worth my best shot.

Because a school code is needed before establishing a blog I had to email the creator, David Warlick, and request a code. This arrived in two days and I was then able to set up the main class blog, as well as each student's blog, assigning them a password which only they and I would know.

As it says on the Classblogmeister homepage, there are over 700,000 blogmeister blogs, and so it's unsurprising that there is a considerable amount of information and support available out there.  I spent a fair bit of time searching for this, and was able to find a number of useful links that helped me in my planning, which I have bookmarked on Delicious. There is also a Classblogmeister Ning, with a lot of video tutorials, links and forums. Throughout the project if ever I had a question or problem, I found that it was answered on this Ning within a few hours. That level of support has got to be a key factor in deciding on Classblogmeister.

I see it as a clear advantage to use a platform that is purpose built, has a feedback tool built in to the process, and has a large edublogging community around it already.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blogging with Classblogmeister - Part One

While this blog has been somewhat dormant of late, I have nevertheless been active in the blogosphere, introducing my class to Classblogmeister. This has been part of an action research project for my MEd, in which I set out to determine whether using blogs brought about an increase in the motivation of my Year 7 & 8s to write. Here is a link to the blog, Bouncy Castle 29. From there you can also access the students' blogs as well (feel free to leave comments on their blogs!)

It's been a great experience so far and I have really enjoyed introducing my class to the sense of connection and audience that blogging brings. I learned a lot along the way (still learning!) and found some great links and resources that others might find useful, so I intend to share some of that here over the next week or so.

So here was my situation: 
The students in this class are provided with opportunities to write daily. Some of this is guided formal writing, such as recounts, arguments, letters and so forth, while some is free writing. The students follow a writing process which takes them from the ideas stage, through drafting and in some cases, publishing.

Generally, this writing is not shared with anyone beyond myself as teacher and their immediate peers in the class. Some in the class enjoy writing and are naturally motivated to put their thoughts into writing, but many are not motivated and produce very little.

My action research project sought to investigate whether or not the use of weblogs has an effect on learners' motivation to write. The key affordances of a blog that might generate this motivation are:
1. The prospect of an audience.
2. Receiving feedback from others, including friends, family and the teacher.
3. The digital medium itself, as opposed to pen and paper, which allows the multimodal presentation of ideas.

I was also investigating the usefulness of Classblogmeister as a platform to achieve this, in terms of ease of use for teacher and students, teacher control and internet safety.

Rather than give the learners complete freedom to blog about anything, I felt it was necessary to provide a particular context for their writing, one which would lend itself well to teaching, modelling and practising the conventions of blogging, including such skills as the appropriate use of someone else's material.

To do this I decided to make the blogging part of our class Current Events programme. The structure I gave the students is based on one of the key tasks of this Webquest about blogging by Anne Davis, called 'Blogging: It's Elementary!'. The instructions/steps/process were a large part of the content of my first blog post on the class blog, Bouncy Castle 29. 

Essentially the students needed to:

1. Choose a news story that interested them from the categories discussed in class, making sure it is something they are interested in so they feel motivated to find more about it.

2. Choose three questions that they would like to investigate. Choose at least one from each stage (questions given were presented in three stages, stage one being lower order thinking, stage three higher order thinking).

3. Try to find out more about their topic so they could answer their questions. They needed to watch TV news, read the newspaper, look on the internet (using links provided on the class blog) and ask their parents and friends what they think about it. As they read/listened, they needed to start to form opinions of their own about the topic. I encouraged them to take a few notes so they could use them when they started writing.

3. Write a blog post a couple of paragraphs long, summarising the story/topic and what they found out about it, and giving their opinion about it. I stressed that their writing MUST be original! They should not cut and paste from other people’s work, but could link to it from their blog.

4. End with a thought-provoking Stage 3 (high order) question that will encourage other people to leave a comment on their blog.

So that sets the stage! Next post I'll look at issues to do with internet safety and parental consent.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'm in love with Nota

There have been a number of cool applications that I've come across recently, but I really want to sing the praises of Nota. I love it! According to its developers, it is

 "a unique, cutting-edge collaborative web platform that allows users to create, share and collaborate on presentations and virtually any other form of online material. Using Nota’s proprietary toolset, users can instantly integrate text, video, maps, clip art, photos from web album or on the local computer, or license-free images from Flickr, and material from an ever-expanding array of sources. Users can then instantly embed their work in Facebook or blogs, and can share and collaborate with friends."

In other words, everything you ever dreamed of. Well, that may be overstating it a tad. Today I used it to take notes at a professional development workshop led by Rochelle Jensen, E-Learning Advisor from the University of Waikato. The workshop focused on the uses of ICT in Education, and I found that taking notes on Nota, I could create moveable text boxes, grab a youtube clip (that Rochelle had shared) by doing a quick search on the sidebar and positioning it wherever I wanted on the page, and I could hyperlink to all relevant pages with ease. Here are my notes from today's session (heaps of excellent links from Rochelle, by the way, so worth having a look!).

What's more,  a reader can make comments on a particular part of the page by clicking on it, making it an extremely useful feedback tool. It's also fully embeddable (is that a word?). In fact, rather than just link to it, I'll try embedding it now...

Great! Even embeds with scrolling. Try clicking on it and see if you can comment, or scroll through the comment bubble options. Very cool. Please check it out, especially their one minute demo video and this page about educational uses. I'm thinking about the possibilities of using this as a platform for e-portfolios with my class, as one possible use. My wiki of choice for now.

Another thing I'm using Nota for is to report on a small scale action research project I'm undertaking for my MEd which is about the effect blogging might have on learners' motivation to write. When I finish I'll post a link here at Webb-ed Feet so that you can read it if interested.

On the blogging note, this week has seen my class set up individual blogs using David Warlick's classblogmeister. So far so good, a few teething problems which I'll save for another post, but on the whole, great to be getting them connected. I'll provide links once the posting really gets going. 

In the meantime, go and sign up at Notaland and have a play!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Google, the Gatekeeper and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

I've been doing some reading around digital literacy for an essay due in June, and came across a great article by L.A. Henry (2006) called 'SEARCHing for an Answer: The Critical Role of New Literacies while Reading on the Internet'.

In the article she provides a great overview of a framework (SEARCH) for showing learners how to navigate such an unwieldy beast as the Internet:

1. Set a purpose for searching.
2. Employ effective search strategies.
3. Analyze search-engine results.
4. Read critically and synthesize information.
5. Cite your sources.
6. How successful was your search?

The thing that stood out to me most of all was the need to train our learners how to use a search engine (Step 2 above). I think we can assume sometimes (and our learners assume too) that everybody knows how to 'Google' something, but this is simply not the case. The results of an inefficient search strategy can be incredibly time consuming. Henry refers to this skill as a 'gatekeeper' skill in online reading:

Students who can quickly read and locate information are then able to use that information for learning and move on to other elements of reading on the Internet; students who cannot are unable to move beyond the search process. Because searching for and locating information are such critical parts of information use on the Internet, they demand our attention. (p.616)

There are a number of search tools/engines that I've found recently, that have been specifically designed for younger learners, and could be useful in helping this 'gatekeeper skill' of effectively locating information.

The first of these is Kidsclick, a website designed by librarians. They developed this to help develop the skill of locating information. It doesn't block any sites, being intended to 'guide users to good sites, not block them from bad ones.' It uses the SWISH-E search engine.

The next one I found is Ask Kids, designed for 6-12 year olds. This website is filtered, and each website in their core index was selected by their editorial team as child-appropriate and relevant. Great visual layout, and easy to navigate.

The last one I'll talk about today is Kidrex, which uses the Google search engine. This site has a page for parents with tips on how to help their children use search engines effectively and stay safe online. This one is also filtered and tested daily by reearchers to make sure it's working as it should. They also have a webpage removal request tool, so that you can report any inappropriate sites that do sneak through. It doesn't have an index like the sites mentioned above, just a search window, so it could be a little harder for kids to use.

Once at the website, of course, students need the skills to know whether or not a website is credible and worth reading. I wonder how many of my learners would be able to pick this website about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus as a fake?

Kathy Shrock has some great resources designed to help learners take a closer look at a website and evaluate it.

I particularly like the '5 W's of Web Evaluation' and her Critical Evaluation of a Website sheets that students can fill out to evaluate websites. These tools are great for developing information literacy skills.

Andrew Churches has a good collection of links to some great boolean search tools here.

The internet is a vast space with some wonderful opportunities for learning. Learners can miss out on this if they lack the skills to even get through 'the gate' and efficiently find what they are looking for.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Long Live the Pen Tappers!

I have to say - and I don't know if this is just me - that one thing I just cannot stand in class is students tapping their pens - incessantly! Maybe it's some primal urge to express ourselves in rhythm or something, but I seem to spend a lot of class time 'hammering' the tappers.

And then I watch this...

This is Erik Mongrain from Montreal. I stumbled across this video this evening and was blown away. Reading his bio I see that he is completely self-taught.  To develop a style like this surely must require a good dose of the tinkering mentality and the space just to be creative.

Now I have no doubt at all that if I were to speak to his old high school teachers, they would tell me that he used to tap his pen in class.  If that is so, all I can say is, "Long Live the Pen Tappers!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Digital Thugs

In the weekend I watched an ABC report on Four Corners about cyber-bullying.  As an educator with a strong interest in educational technology, this is something I take very seriously. There is so much scope for wonderful learning experiences and connections made across the planet - yet there is also so much scope for harm as well. The dark side of ed tech.

It was heart-breaking listening to the parents of children who had experienced cyberbullying, and in one case had committed suicide because of it.  The one thing they all said was that while they were at home in the evening, watching tv or whatever, they thought their child was safe because they were in their bedroom. These days it seems even a child's own room is not safe, as the bullies are right there on the screen that the victims themselves just can't seem to pull themselves away from.

On a related note, Andrew Churches has just blogged at Edorigami about the phenomenon of 'sexting', and what the implications of this are for bullying and for young people's digital footprints:
But it does not end there, Bullying resulting from sexting is claiming lives as young people are stressed and harassed to the point where they feel that suicide is there only way out.

This six minute video that I found at Ewan McIntosh's is a great portrayal of what some kids suffer because of cyberbullying. Definitely worth watching, and even showing to your class as a discussion starter.

Professor Donna Cross was interviewed on the ABC show, and claimed that one of the biggest reasons that young people do not tell their parents about cyberbullying, is the fear that they will lose the right to use their computer if they do. 

So in a way, the bullying is the price they are prepared to pay to stay connected.  This is how important it is to them. (Imagine if someone threatened to take away your computer! Aaarrrggghhh!!!)  I have experienced this parental reaction with a student in my own class, complete computer privileges withdrawn -  not for bullying as such, but for fear of the prospect of personal information being put online.

We really must as teachers try to see things from a parent's perspective. There are real dangers out there, and we teach under the principle of in loco parentis. This is a serious responsibility, which demands that essential parental balancing act of urging learners forward into new challenges and experiences, yet not dropping them out of the nest before you know their wings work well enough to survive the experience.

This is where I believe digital literacy meets digital citizenship. I would suggest that one cannot be digitally literate without an understanding of the responsibilities of digital citizenship. I have just been reading some research by Eshet-Alkalai (2004, Digital Literacy: A Conceptual Framework for Survival Skills in the Digital Era. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(1), 93-106). It includes 'socio-emotional literacy' as an essential aspect of digital literacy. This type of literacy is all about the ability to manage one's identity and relationships safely in a digital context.

This makes me consider exactly what I want the group of learners I have responsibility for to leave my class with at the end of the year. Yes, it would be great for them to know how to use a few cool digital tools, but most importantly I want them to have a sense of digital citizenship, an awareness of the traps that exist and strategies to confidently navigate around these.

By the way, I found a great webquest about cyber-safety called 'Playing it Safe'. It looks as though it hasn't been updated for a while, but looks good nevertheless, and could easily be adapted. I'm planning to use this with my class next term, and will let you know how it goes when it's finished.

David Warlick has blogged recently about 21st Century literacies. He quotes extensively from Howard Rheingold. These comments struck me in particular:

And don’t swallow the myth of the digital native. Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation - and, by far most importantly, online crap detection. (Rheingold)

This comment could apply equally to the socio-emotional literacy our kids need. Digital natives? Digital citizens? A citizen of anywhere needs to be inducted into the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and it is a mistake to mistake technical fluency with ethical and responsible use.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One Month of Webb-ed Feet

Yes indeed, my one month blogoversary!  Not all that long really, yet I really feel this has become a big part of my life and has changed my 'metacognitive processes'.

Blogging about blogging does seem a little indulgent, and posts have been written cursing the practice of 'metablogging'. Nevertheless, it is worthy of a personal reflection, and why not share that?!

These are some of the ways that blogging has changed the way I think:

Blogging has 'forced' me to make connections between ideas. Maybe it's the 'pressure' of finding something new to blog about (!), but I find that when I read other blogs and comments, or articles about teaching/learning, and when I think about my own practice, I am always looking for ways that these things connect. Taking several separate ideas and connecting them, and perhaps developing some new ideas. New for me at least.  In this way I'm a much more reflective practitioner because of the blog.

Will Richardson, in writing about connective writing defines the ultimate goal in blogging as "extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links and comments."   That's what I aspire to as a blogger, and what I want to model for my learners.

Blogging has also given me a sense of accountability about my teaching.  I have such a clear idea in my head of what I would like the learning in my class to look like, but inevitably this is a step by step process, day by day on what can seem like a long journey.  It's great to blog about amazing things other educators are doing and to discuss new ideas, but are these ideas and practices filtering their way into my classroom? Is what my class is doing/learning worthy of comment?  I want it to be! Not so that I can blog about it, but because it means exciting things are happening which I want to share.    

As teachers we experience a kind of professional isolation of sorts. We're all in this together, but each in our own room doing our own thing. I would love to have a look in the classrooms of the people whose blogs I read, but how often do we get that opportunity?   Clarence Fisher recently gave us this opportunity in posting a short video of his class and what they are about on his blog.

Inspiring stuff, and great to see the real everyday context of an educator whose work I admire a great deal. Yes, I am overcome with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy when I view this (!!), but it makes me ask the questions: What would a video like this of my class look like? What would I like it to look like? Being here in the blogosphere spurs me on to make it happen.

This post by Steve Dembo (definitely subscribe if you have not already done so!) explores the question of what success as a blogger really means. Is it audience size? Posting frequency? He suggests these three questions to ask ourselves as bloggers: 

1. Do you get a good feeling after publishing a new post?

2. Did you enjoy blogging even before anybody knew your blog existed?

3. Would you keep blogging if the comment system didn’t exist?

Great questions, and like Steve, after one month I believe I can also answer these questions in the affirmative!

So glasses raised, and here's to more adventures in the blogosphere!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Tony Foster, in his recent comment on this post, alerted me to this article in the Biologist by Aric Sigman, "The biological implications of 'social networking'".  Let me quote Tony's comment:

Where online contact replaces, rather than supplements, F2F interaction (and this is becoming the norm), biological changes, he claims, make us more vulnerable to physical and mental illness. "Social networking is in many ways an oxymoron ... and is not a substitute for flesh-in-the-flesh relationships." (BBC Radio 4 interview, 19 Feb 09 - the technical shortcomings of prevent me from attaching the 5-minute clip.) His argument rests on the thesis that virtual interaction is actually perceived by the body & mind as loneliness, and this in turn can make us susceptible to a whole range of potentially serious diseases. Well worth considering, if this is what we're actually encouraging by promoting online interaction.

This certainly raises some interesting questions for us as educators committed to developing digital literacy in our learners, and harnessing the incredible potential for connectivity that the Internet brings.  This is our vision and we are excited by the possibilities, but is there a chance that by 'going digital' with our learners we are contributing to the breakdown of face-to-face communication (not to mention the onset of a few diseases)?

I love the phrase Sigman uses in this article, 'iPod oblivion' referring to those so zoned out by their iPods, Blackberries etc that they become oblivious to their immediate surroundings, sometimes with fatal consequences. (Just as an aside, there's an interesting discussion going on over at Open Educator about whether or not students should be allowed to use their iPods at school.)

Sigman's article goes on to say, 

A decade ago, a detailed classic study of 73 families who used the internet for communication, The Internet Paradox, concluded that greater use of the internet was associated with declines in communication between family members in the house, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their levels of depression and loneliness.

The first thing that stands out to me about that quote is that a decade is a long time in the world of the Internet. Now we have Web 2.0! Does this make a difference? The fact that people can participate so much more in what used to be a read-only environment, surely must mitigate against these other negative effects??

In this regard Sigman points out that 

A recent editorial of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine made the timely point that social networking “…encourages us to ignore the social networks that form in our non-virtual communities. … the time we spend socialising electronically separates us from our physical networks.”

Dr Gary Small's new book iBrain looks at neuroplasticity, and the way that digital natives' brains are actually biologically different because of the 'constant presence of technology today'. Interestingly, his book includes a section on 'social skills for reconnecting face to face', and 'empathy upgrades for digital natives'. (Hat tip: Edorigami)

The balance we need to strike is to make the most of what we have digitally (and what a great time to be a teacher/learner), yet never lose sight of the importance of our PLN (physical life network).  We could end up with a generation that is digitally literate, but sociophysically incompetent.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Political Pinocchios on Wikipedia

I had to laugh watching the news this evening: a government minister, Richard Worth is currently involved in a conflict-of-interest scandal, (which is not really all that uncommon for  a politician). The thing that made me laugh was that he was exposed as having edited his own entry on Wikipedia so that it noted not a 'potential conflict of interest' but a 'perception' of one! In doing so he earned a telling off by the websites editors. 

On the same page is a story about a Labour MP who fell victim to an April Fool's prank when someone set up a Twitter account in his name and started 'tweeting' from the House that he was upset about not being able to ask more questions. He accused a 'right-wing blogger' of pulling the prank.

It made me wonder how many other politicians have been caught out by web 2.0. Worth is certainly not the first politician to realise that web 2.0 has a huge amount of power to control discourse, and also not to realise that there are so many observers in cyberspace that this kind of malarky is unlikely to go unnoticed. You just can't get away with editing out all the embarrassing stuff from your Wikipedia entry!

This site has tips for budding politicians on how to avoid embarrassing themselves on Facebook, and this article (referring to Twitter) claims that, "Finally the Web has generated a product that is shallow and narcissistic enough for (politicians') needs."

Anyway, the education connection: this story (and the others like it) show us how important it is to teach our learners to be critical consumers of information on the Internet. How many of our learners know that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and the implications for the accuracy of the information found there (which some studies have shown to be incredibly high)? Perhaps more importantly, how many of them know that if you do make changes, the changes are recorded for all to see?

How do our learners know that the person whose tweets they are reading really is that person? I believe that the learners who have learned in an environment where these tools are used all the time (and used appropriately) are going to be so much more aware of how they can be misused as well. Those who know their way around a wiki will read other wikis more critically and know to check the history and discussions.

Those politicians running for office when our students are old enough to vote: Beware! If we as teachers do our job properly, you won't get much past them!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Twitter, TED and terrorists

I've just been watching Evan Williams on TED, recorded in February this year. For those of you who don't know, Williams was one of the co-founders of Twitter and Blogger (both started as side projects, as he explains).

The focus of his talk is the concept of Twitter itself and how its uses have been adapted by its users (now numbering an estimated 4-5 million) since it was launched in March 2006.

Some of the more interesting factoids he mentions are that plants (yes, plants) can tweet for water, and even babies can tweet when still in the womb! Talk about digital natives...

He ends his talk on a hopeful note, saying, "When you give people more ways to share information, more good things happen."

To demonstrate the power of the tool, by end of talk over 50 tweets about the talk itself were already on Twitter, providing an instant feedback mechanism (for better or worse, as you'll see at the end).

I hope he's right about more good things happening when people share information. That's our hope in education, of course.  I'm not so sure the US military shares the enthusiasm, according to this report in the Washington Post, which claims that this very 'information sharing' capability could lead to Twitter being used as a tool by terrorists! They give three examples of how this could occur, which I couldn't help but think was just giving the terrorists ideas!

The nature of web 2.0 tools makes them neutral in the hands of their users. Is this malevolent kind of use inevitable? 

Delicious highlights #1

Since I opened my Delicious account I have noticed I am so much more likely to bookmark a website than I was when I just stored them on my laptop. I think maybe one of the key things for me, apart from having my bookmarks available online, on any computer, is the fact that I am adding to a collective pool of recommended sites. Recently I have been turning to Delicious to do a search rather than Google, and usually finding that if I enter the right search tags I can find exactly the kind of websites I was looking for. What's more, I can search my own bookmarks, my network's bookmarks or everybody's.

Anyway, because it is a virtual treasure trove for me, I thought I'd pick out some of the highlights from the last week and share them with you here:

  1. The New Media Literacies - this is a reasonably short YouTube video about the way our conception of literacy is changing in the 21st Century. I found this over at Lunchbox.  
  2. Spelling City - I've put my students on to this one already. A great spelling site, and thing I like most about it is that the students can either choose from lists on the site or enter their own list, and the website will test, teach and create games using those words. Great!
  3. KEEPVID - Many schools have blocked websites like YouTube, and teachers know how frustrating it can be to find something really useful but not be able to show it. KEEPVID enables you to easily download a video so you can play it back later from your computer. Problem solved!
  4. Youtubetime - while we're talking about YouTube, here's a useful website that provides a way to link to a specific part of a YouTube video.
  5. Teachers TV - As the website says, 'Thousands of education programmes on TV and online.'  Andrew Churches put us on to this at his workshop last week.
  6. Graphic Organisers - teachers love this kind of thing: lots and lots of free graphic organisers in pdf format.
  7. LibriVox - ok, last one: this site provides free audiobooks from the public domain, and the option to record chapters of books in the public domain. I have some students who are excellent listeners, but who really struggle with reading. Sites like these have the potential to turn these students on to books and literature. (hat tip: Andrew Churches)
Well, that's it for last week's highlights. I wonder which websites out there are waiting to be discovered this week!  Hopefully you found some of these useful, and by the way, don't forget to bookmark Webb-ed Feet on Delicious using the tag at the top of the sidebar!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Andrew Churches Workshop

We had a whole day workshop yesterday at school led by Andrew Churches. The focus was 'Learning Styles, Learning Tools', and it was very, very cool. It was one of those sessions where you just couldn't type fast enough to get down everything you wanted to, and it was bursting with links and ideas and new ways of doing things.

He started by showing us this video by Don Tapscott, 'You are the Dumbest Generation'.

It really is a welcome breath of fresh air. It's easy to believe the cynical way young people are seen these days, when actually, there is very little evidence to back it up. I'd quite like to show it to my class. Hmmm.  

Just while we're on video links, another amazing one which Andrew showed us is this one called 'The Lost Generation'

What a great ending!!! Now this is a format I will definitely try with my students. I'm sure it will work if you use the structure on every second line. Very powerful. And hopeful too. Watching this kind of thing really does make me think that what we do as teachers matters a lot. Really matters.

Andrew then took us through the different learning styles, multiple intelligences and showed us some digital tools that could be used to really engage learners who have those particular learning preferences.  I won't list them all here because you can see them for yourself on Andrew's wiki page, along with how it fits with the learning style/MI theory. 

The key thing for me was that when looking at what digital tools to use in teaching, we need to look for areas of overlap, because no individual learner is exclusively one style/intelligence, but rather a composite that changes with factors such as (as Andrew outlined) the task, the teacher, the topic, what is being taught and how. Also, no particular digital tool is exclusively suited to one learning style/intelligence. Most of them these days are multimodal.

Multimodal literacy is something I'm preparing a paper on at the moment, so it's an area of interest, and I'll probably post about some of what I'm learning as I go. We live in a multimodal world, and our learners must be literate in that world. What exactly that means and how we achieve it is contested, but fascinating nevertheless.

Andrew also brought along one of his robots that I referred to in a previous post, so it was cool to see that in action.

OK, last snippet, which I found very interesting indeed: apparently employees of Google have 20% of their total work time designated 'play'! How cool is that! The rationale is that it is when we play that we are our most creative and discover new things. The Wikipedia entry says this:

In a talk at Stanford University, Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, stated that her analysis showed that half of the new product launches originated from the 20% time.

Google has decided that this is fundamental to innovation, and I think they're right. So, implications for classroom practice? Hmmm. It's all about creating opportunities for creativity and valuing it for what it could be. 

Embrace the chaos!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Tinker Table

Some of you may have read this post by Clarence Fisher about 'tinkering'. I read it a few weeks back and found it quite inspiring, and so decided to set up a Tinker Table in my classroom, the grand unveiling of which was just last week. What a success!!!

The prospect of being able to take to an old piece of electronic equipment with some screwdrivers, pliers, wirecutters - they were just delighted. At this stage I just have an old TV and stereo and students can use it three at a time, for 10 or 15 minutes before the next rotation have a go. I have been really surprised at who has been interested in it. I had wrongly assumed that it would be something mostly enjoyed by the more physical boys in my class, but I heard a number of "yay!"s from some of the quieter girls as well, in fact, everybody.

No matter who is using it, one thing is consistent, and that is the absolute focus and fascination of the users.  This is something that I observed during their Technology time as well and blogged about a couple of weeks ago

Now, to be sure, what I have set up is what I'd have to call 'crude tinkering' or 'destructive tinkering' in that all they are doing is dismantling the object. It is more focused on curiosity than creativity at this stage. That said, isn't curiosity the mother of creativity? I think this is something that will evolve over time, especially as I hear what others are doing.  

What I'd love to do is get a robotics programme going with my class, or as an extra-curricular activity. Andrew Churches has been blogging a lot about this recently with reference to Lego Robotics here, here and here. It looks fascinating, and after seeing my students at tech and tinkering, I can't think of a single one who wouldn't love this. I'll need to find out more about this, cost, resources, software etc.

My overarching goal is to develop the 'tinkering mentality' and apply it to lots of things - the way they use language, their ideas and how they find new ways of using digital learning tools. Most of what I have learnt about using web 2.0 tools has been by tinkering, and as educators we need to make sure we create the space for this tinkering to happen.

One added spin-off is that it has also become a classroom management tool, because they know that the 'right to tinker' needs to be earned by being on-task with other classroom activities.

Follow the links at Remote Access if you are interested in reading more about this. Highly recommended!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Asynchronous Conversations

The paper I'm doing at the moment is called 'E-Learning Pedagogy'. I'm doing this as a distance student and the participants are spread across the country, one even as far away as Kuwait.

There was a time when I considered it a disadvantage to be studying online and not face-to-face in a classroom, which was a luxury afforded by those not needing to earn money at the same time! Well, I think those days are over, and I'm a true believer in the asynchronous conversation.

In many ways, the conversation in a classroom, although dynamic and often very interesting, happens too quickly for real thought/learning to be taking place. Often it's after the class when you replay the conversation that you have your best thoughts and realise what you could have said in reply to a particular point.  Unless you are an extroverted person, there's a good chance that you end up being (largely) an observer of a conversation between those with the classroom confidence to state their opinion, challenge others' ideas and engage in debate.

Online learning avoids these pitfalls. In a discussion forum you can read someone's ideas and chew on them for as long as you like before responding. You can go and check out a few facts or do some reading before responding, and you can even get eight hours sleep before answering the question (which might be considered somewhat rude in a face-to-face!).

What I'm interested in at the moment is creating space for asynchronous discussion in a face-to-face class. I've set my class a homework task this week, which is to respond in the comments section of our class blog to a thought-provoking question I have posted there.  As the comments come in for moderation I usually give a brief reply. Over the course of the week there's been this other extended conversation happening, over and above the cut and thrust (and noise) of daily classroom life. I've really enjoyed it and have seen a different side of my students, especially those who do not often put their hands up or participate in discussions. The Internet is the new Equaliser!

So I'm thinking of ways to build more of this into the classroom.  Twitter could be worth experimenting with in this respect. Hmmm. Still thinking about that one.

One side effect of online learning (and blogging) is that everything I read now (even a magazine) I expect there to be somewhere to post a comment! Even watching TV or listening to a professional development seminar.  I think the whole process enables a higher level of metacognition and reflection, and that could be the real benefit of integrating this into my class.

Voxopop (formally Chinswing) is a Web 2.0 tool that enables asynchronous conversations. I haven't used this yet, but at a glance I can see  a lot of potential for its use. Here is a post about using this in language learning, where students often need more time to formulate responses.
Voxopop enables you to start your own 'talkgroup', which could be open or closed, and you actually record your own voice, rather than typing. This would be great for junior students who are still getting used to a keyboard.  

Voicethread is another application which is essentially asynchronous, enabling comment around an image, video or topic.

Hmmm.... Lots of possibilities! I think I'll think about this a bit more and come back to it at a later post. Please share your experiences below if you've used these tools or have other thoughts on the matter. Let's have our own asynchronous conversation!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wonderment and Awe

Recently I've been talking with my class about Art Costa's Habits of Mind, and focusing on one of the 16 each week. One that really resonates with me is 'Responding with Wonderment and Awe'. 

I remember when I was at university (the first time!) seeing a picture in the National Geographic, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the description, the Hubble had chosen an area of sky about the size of a grain of sand, that appeared completely empty, and then zoomed in on it for an extended period of time. This is what they saw. Mindblowing. Each speck of light there is a galaxy, containing hundreds of billions of stars. This is a vastness our brains are not really wired to comprehend, and you can only 'Respond with Wonderment and Awe' and feel very tiny.

I came across an image on the internet recently, which invoked that same feeling. Ever wondered what the Internet looked like? Try this: 

This image is from the Opte Project, who are using special software to 'map' the Internet. It looks to me as though it hasn't been updated for a while, but incredible nevertheless. I have this image on my desktop, and I think most of my colleagues think it's a fireworks display (!). To me it's a visual representation of collaboration and connection on a grand scale.  I believe that relative to the future, this image may just be a seedling.

Ultimately, when working with Web 2.0 in the classroom, this is what we are teaching our students to navigate and use effectively. And unlike space travel, which takes light years, to get from one end of the Internet to the other only takes a couple of clicks, and there are plenty of black holes on the way.

As part of my course I'm reading Will Richardson's book  'Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom'. It has some incredible statistics.

"In early 2008,, one of the many blog tracking services, listed over 110million blogs ... At this writing, the service was adding 120,000 new blogs and 1.5 milion Weblog posts each day." p.2

He also discusses Wikipedia, which often gets a hard time from critics. Richardson's comments here are worth reading too, particularly regarding the accuracy of Wikipedia.

"No one person, or even small group of people, could produce Wikipedia, as currently edits appear at a rate of around 400,000 per day. Everyday, thousands of people who have no connection to one another engage in the purposeful work of negotiating and creating truth. They do this with no expectation that their contributions will be in some way acknowledged or compensated, and they do it understanding that what they contribute can be freely edited or modified or reused by anyone else for any purpose. The extent to which this happens and to which it is successful is truly inspiring."  (2009 p.57)

Inspiring indeed. Go forth, in Wonderment and Awe.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Am I a StatCounter-holic???

Well, Webb-ed Feet is just over one week old, and I have to say that I'm really enjoying being an active participant in the blogosphere, after many years as a 'lurker'. That said, you do learn a lot as a lurker, and you never cease being a lurker on some sites.  I do think that having your own blog gives you more confidence to comment on others, and maybe commenting on others' gives you more confidence to blog.

However, one thing I've noticed is that I've become a bit of an addict, and I'm blaming it on my StatCounter/Feedjit/Clustrmap!  It's hard to resist the urge to open the old MacBook for a quick peek, see if the counter's gone up, ultimately to see who, 'out there', is reading.  I get a bit of a thrill seeing those little red dots pop up, and wondering who it could be in Venezuela or New York that's reading. 

I'd love to hear from other bloggers out there - do you experience this as well? At least did you in the early days? Clearly those bloggers with thousands of readers are not going to jump up and down over one more red dot. Or are they?... Here's one example of similar sentiment, and the StatCounter User Forum even has a thread on this.

Thinking about my own experience here, I think when getting students to create their own blogs, I would almost certainly recommend that they put a Clustrmap on their blog. One of the key advantages of blogging as a student publishing tool is that it connects them with a real, global audience, and Clustrmaps etc, give them proof that they are being read, and hopefully will motivate them to write more.

Even better than red dots, however, are comments - a blogger's food. This to me is really what blogging is all about - starting a conversation and developing ideas as others add their perspectives. 

So, as always, comments please!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Smell of a Good Website

The feeling I get from following other people's links and searching for good stuff on the internet is the same feeling I get when I'm browsing in a second-hand bookshop. There's always that anticipation of finding some hidden treasure somewhere. I love the smell of old books. I wonder what old websites smell like??!!

Over the last few months I've found a number of blogs and sites which have absolute 'must bookmark' and have harvested them to my delicious page.

Here are some very worthwhile places that you might like to check out (if you haven't already!).

Turning the Supertanker was one of the first e-learning blogs I came across. A great record of one Auckland school's journey in digitising practice. Definitely check out the Resources page, as it has great links to Web 2.0 resources, and the 'How to' page and excellent video tutorials on how to use some these, like Voicethread, Inspiration, and Audacity. Definitely worth a visit.

Andrew Churches' blog has a lot of great information, and the accompanying wiki is a storehouse of ideas and resources for those wanting to integrate e-learning into their classroom. Particularly useful are the Starter Sheets he has here, pdf sheets introducing web 2.0 applications to the classroom, suggesting classroom adaptations, and importantly, tying these in with Bloom's and learning styles.

Will Richardson is usually on everyone's blogroll, and for good reason. He wrote the book (literally) when it comes to using the Read/Write Web in the classroom. You could spend hours exploring this blog and following all the worthwhile links.  This blog introduced me to RSS and the possibilities for its use in learning. If you're unfamiliar with RSS or want a good place to refer other people who are new to it, check out this page. After reading that I set up a bloglines account and now enjoy my blogs coming to me!  

If you enjoy reading my blog (for example) you just click on the RSS Subscribe button in the side bar, and then choose your feed aggregator, and then whenever this blog is updated you'll be notified immediately, rather than having to check to see if there's anything new.

OK, last one for today! Graham Wegner's Open Educator blog is always thoughtful, challenging and refreshing. And his Shared Items are always worth checking out too.  Definitely one to sub on bloglines!