You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Wow, I can’t believe that I am writing my final blog post for ECI 831.  One thing we can count on is time traveling quickly.  As I am contemplating what I have learned in my journey this term, it occurred to me that I have moved from not knowing how to set up a blog site to being determined that, although this will be the last post for this course, it will not be the last post on my site.

Learning how to blog this term was both satisfying and frustrating.  I definitely made a lot of progress.  It was a huge job for me to set up my blog site and figure out how to get started.  I didn’t realize at first that I had to approve comments as I stated in my blog post, “Am I starting to Understand?”  I found myself moving from being nervous about it to looking forward to it. I gradually learned how to insert pictures and video.  It was a great way to get out my thoughts on different  issues.  My school  principal gets to hear a lot of my ranting and raving out tech issues, so she was also be grateful that I had the blog site to express some of my thoughts.

One of the most satisfying things that I did this term was get a classroom of children in my school to start blogging as I talked about in my blog post about technology and language and my post about having fun with blogging. They were  excited to learn what it was and how to do it.  They were so excited about their first blog posts that many of them published them before we had a chance to check them over  and they were full of mistakes despite the number of times we told them not to.  It was interesting to see their progress and it was truly an experience where the students  exceeded the teacher.  Once I gave them the basics, many of them took off and were not afraid to experiment and try new things.  Check out our blogging spot!

In my position right now I do not have my own classroom of students and I have not had one for a couple of years.  I have been saying to my principal this year, “you need to get me back in the classroom.”  These grades 4/5 students showed me first hand the importance of connecting with their world.

The next thing I tackled was creating a wiki site that the teachers in my school could use so that they would have useful resources right at their finger tips.  I think that one of the biggest challenges teachers face involves time and although many teachers have the desire to use technology in their classrooms, they feel they do not have the time or expertise to do it.  This thought is what motivated the Smart’s Social Networking wiki.

I found this new medium harder than the blog to dive in and conquer.  I kept wanting to just scrap my original idea and head back to a blog site.  When we shared our ideas mid-class and I expressed my frustrations, Alec said it would be okay to do that.  I did not want the new technology to defeat me though!  I wanted to forge ahead and not retreat back to the familiar.  My wiki is definitely a work in progress, but I think that it is starting to come together to, at least, fulfill the purpose that was intended.

The classes this term were very inspiring to me. I was always pumped up at the end of class.  Either I was ready to try a new idea ,such as when we listened to Alan Levine as he spoke about digital storytelling and Sylvia Martinez when she spoke about educational gaming, or express my feelings in a blog post after listening to Jon Mott talk about open education.  I have been involved in on-line learning and teaching for a number of years, so his ideas really inspired me and made me realize that there were many more things that I could have added to my on-line courses.   There were other nights when I left confused, but I excited to go and find out what the heck we were talking about!  I am not kidding, but I love to learn new things such as the whole idea of remixing  with Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie. Ever since I heard Dean Share (ski) speak in Saskatoon I have been a groupie of his, following his ideas on open access to technology and digital teaching and learning.   I always looked forward to class and enjoyed the format very much.

I was not a huge participator in the back channel, but I did make peace with it about half way through the course.  I was distracted by it at first because it was not something that I was used to as I blogged about in my post, “Making Friends with the back channel.” About half way through the course I realized that I was using the back channel more than I thought and I was able to listen to the lecture and at least keep up with what was going on.  I thought it was so interesting to have guest speakers and fellow participants from all over the world.

When I first started this course it took me a long time to get my picture posted on the class wiki.  Thank goodness you can make a mistake and not wreck everything that is on there!  I also made an introductory video using xtranormal.  I uploaded it to you tube.  I never got it to the class wiki because of time constraints, but I can say that I have a video posted on you tube.  I used it as an example for a group of grades 6,7 and 8 students  when I was trying to inspire them to branch out and try something new for a project we were working on.  Let me tell you, they were impressed that their old vice-principal had a video posted on you tube!

One of the other projects that I attempted was doing a video using a site called VoiceThread. I tried to upload it to this post, but it was taking too long, so I decided that a link would have to do.  I was very proud of my finished product and I think it is another indication of the progress that I have been able to make this term.

The off shoots and benefits of this course have far exceeded my expectations.

  • I became familiar with faces and places and names that I never would have otherwise.  Now when I am looking around on the web I recognize names and can make connections
  • I have taken on an unexpected role on my staff as a technology mentor by passing on new ideas and supporting teachers with projects and lessons
  • I now feel I understand many tech topics much better including some that I had never even heard of before
  • I try and pass on my new found enthusiasm to others by presenting videos and information to my staff at  staff meetings
  • I saw the possibility to bring more technology into my school and applied for a grant to start a new project
  • I have carried on numerous conversations with division technology tech people to try and encourage  progress toward making 21st century learning and teaching easier for teachers
  • I was amazed at the amount of support that was available to me and the amount of help I received from everyone associated with this course
  • I learned so many things from the speakers and classmates from around the world

I would be amiss to not admit that I still have some frustrations associated with technology

  • Time is the biggest factor for me and the teachers in my school and, I think, teachers everywhere

I hope that I will continue to make progress and can gradually work towards less frustrations and even more beneficial off-shoots.

I will miss you on the back channel!

Am I Learning New Technology or New Language?

According to our speaker last night, Stephen Downes,… what we are really needing are not 21st century skills necessarily, but 21st century languages.  Hmmm…that was some more food for thought for this already well fed brain.  Stephen went on to give a presentation that was full of somewhat complicated ideas and information.  One thought that stood out for me was “we learn by participating and creating artifacts in various languages.”  I am not sure if this is the true meaning that Stephen wanted to get across to me, but the way I interpreted it, that couldn’t be more true for me or for ECI831. I have been forced way out of my comfort zone in this course and I have made myself try new things even when I was uncomfortable doing it.  I can definitely say that I have learned by participating and I have managed to create a few artifacts.

When I watch my grades 4/5 students blogging each week, I can’t believe how comfortable they are and how excited they are to try something new.  I find myself working hard to stay caught up with them.  Most of them do not need to be taught new skills because they are so comfortable with the “language” that they are willing to explore and discover on their own.  I am trying to teach them to be willing to dialogue with people and create their posts and comments for the purpose of opening up a discussion with someone else with similar interests or ideas.

When reflecting on Stephen Downe’s lecture and trying to make some connection to it, I spent some time reading some of his other blog posts and articles.  I came across an article titled, “Seven Habits of Highly Connected People.”  It is worth checking out.  There were some excellent ideas to pass along to my grade 4/5’s.

“The first thing any connected person should be is receptive. Whether on a discussion forum, mailing list, or in a blogging community or gaming site, it is important to spend some time listening and getting the lay of the land.”

What excellent advice for anyone, not just on-line.  We all need to be open to other perspectives and ideas and it never hurts to listen or live and learn as I call it.  Maybe it isn’t so bad afterall that I still get a bit frustrated with the back channel.  I may be called a lurker, but perhaps I am just listening and getting the lay of the land.

“What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being. The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you. Comprehension has as much to do with feeling as it does with cognition.”


Another piece of excellent advice to  pass on.  It never hurts to add a little of your own voice and let people get an idea of who you are.  I am trying to teach my grade 4 and 5 students to put a little of themselves into their posts and comments and to try to use language that is engaging and creates a voice.

So as I continue to guide my students in the creation of their artifacts I hope that we all can learn the language of their future together.

Catch you on the back channel.

Am I starting to understand?

When I first started ECI 831 I felt a bit like I had been thrown off the side of a cruise ship and I was trying to find a life-preserver. I have enjoyed the course since day one, but  it made me reach so far out of my comfort zone  and I wondered If I would be able to do it.  I did not understand the whole social networking world and to be honest, I did not understand what people gained from it.  I have had friends who have badgered me to get on Face book and my answer has always been “I don’t have time for that stuff.” I am amazed how far I have come since day 1.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am far from knowing what I am doing and most of the things I do are still a matter of trial and error and are not really based on any confident skill.  The question I have to ask ,though, is…am I starting to understand?

It takes me forever to blog because I am a bit type A and I want things to be the way I envision them before I will publish.  At the beginning of the course I could really only fit in one blog a week and I was not commenting or responding. I want to make an apology to all of the wonderful and interesting people who commented on my posts only to have me not approve them and/or not respond.  I did not mean for it to be personal, I just did not know what I was doing.

Now I am find myself wondering if anyone has commenting on anything I have said.  I will even sneak to my blog site at work sometimes when I am supposed to be doing something else.  I have always been easily distracted…but never distracted by social networking before.  I am starting  to understand why students are always sneaking to Facebook every chance they get.

Am I making a transformation?  I can sense a change in myself as I start to figure out the social networking world and start to become familiar with some of the names and information. I am trying to pass on some of my new found, and still very green skill to others such as the teachers and students in my school.  Wow!  I think I am making progress!  If I can do it, anyone can.  I can’t wait to see what is next…

Catch you on the back channel.

How safe is too safe?

www.freedigitalphotos.net

I recently started a blogging project with the grades 4/5 class in my school and  I was intent on protecting them and keeping them safe from the outside world.  I went to a lot of work to set up the site so all of their posts and comments run through my gmail account and right now we are closed off from the rest of the world.  In talking with the classroom teacher, we decided that we would invite another class of students in our school division to join us in our blogging project.  This would give us a slightly wider audience, but allow us to remain in our safe little environment.

The problem for me is that is seems as if something is missing from our project.  As I search around the internet checking out other student and classroom blogs, I can’t help but notice that the opportunity for comments from the outside world is an important component of what blogging is all about.  I come back to the video, “42” which describes the advantage of providing our students with a much broader and more valid audience for their writing.  So how safe is too safe?

I asked one of our school division technology people what the division policy is on blog sites.  He did not seem to think that it was a problem to open up the blog as long as:

1.  We had parental permission for them to participate

2.  The students did not give away any personal, identifying information

Greg Stark commented on my blog post about my student blogging project and  suggested that I open up our site and run all the comments through my e-mail so that I could delete any inappropriate comments.  Thanks for the suggestion.

We seem to do a lot of things to try and keep our students safe and “out of trouble”, so to speak.  Are we really trying to promote the use of technology in our classrooms?  I can’t help but wonder if we are being stifled by our own fears.  I was reading a blog post today and the teacher was describing having a “hissy fit” because a site that she had picked out to use with her students had been blocked.

Yesterday, I was helping a student who was trying to find out how many hours it would take to fly to China for one of his projects.  I was trying to give him suggestions as to where he could go to find the information, but all of the sites we found were blocked.

I am often working from home on my own laptop and preparing things for use in school, only to find that when I get to school, the sites that I wanted to use are blocked.  When I tried to use my own laptop at school, I found that this met with some roadblocks as well and that it is not allowed under our “acceptable use policy”.  Interesting… I guess I should have read that more carefully before I signed it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why there have to be rules and why we have to be careful.  I also understand that if you find a site you want to be able to access and can’t,  you can request to have it unblocked.  The problem with the whole idea is often, in the mean time, teachers that are wanting to get into technology use within their classrooms get discouraged and can feel that the time invested is not worth it.

I was sitting in on a short inservice session last week with some math teachers in my division.  I was listening to one teacher describe a video project she was doing with her students.  They were enjoying it and had invested a lot of time and energy into the project.  When they came back to it the next day, she found that “Deep Freeze” had blocked their pictures and their project was at a standstill until a tech person could get there and help her out. I am sure I could come up with countless other examples.

Our school division has been very encouraging to teachers providing us with up to date technologies and support personal to help us out.  We also have a technology grant that teachers can apply for to promote technology projects within our schools. I still have to wonder, though, if our fears are holding us back.   Are we really doing everything we can to encourage teachers to move away from traditional teaching methods and try new technologies?  I wonder…

Catch you on the back channel!

Having fun with blogging!

I have been having such fun this week blogging with a group of very enthusiastic elementary students in my school.  I happened to see a class project they were working on laying on my principal’s desk one day.  It was a paper “blog” about things that were going on their classroom.  I immediately saw an opportunity to convince these students and their teacher to help me out.  For my project in ECI 831 I wanted to develop a Wiki or blog that would be a tool that teachers could use at my school to get involved with technology and along with that I was hoping to start a blogging project in my school to use as a successful example.  When I saw the paper “blog” I saw an opportunity that I  was hoping  could be win, win for all of us.

We got started this week after I spent a lot of time deciding where we should set up our blog and how I wanted to organize it. I was able to get a lot of useful information from Fusion: Educator Integrating Technology and from a blog site by Kim Cofino, called “Always Learning: Teaching Technology Abroad.” After doing a lot of researching and thinking I decided to set up my students using a gmail account and have all their posts and comments run through my email.  This way I could be in control of what was being posted.

I introduced my eager grade 4s and5s to what blogging was and we watched the video , “Blogging in Plain English” and talked about what blogging was all about.  We also discussed some of the safely issues that we had to pay attention to.

Some of them came to me this morning bubbling with excitement.  They said that they had taken their parents on to our blog site to show them what we are doing.  They asked if it was all right that they were posting on to the site from home. Was it all right that they were excited about writing when they were not required to?  Wow!

I was not prepared for the enthusiasm that was abounding and how quickly and easily they caught on.  They could not wait to get their ideas posted.  Today we talked about making comments and how we could use comments to learn from each other.  The class usually ends before we are ready to quit.  The classroom teacher and I have made plans on how we can expand our project and hopefully involve another school in our school division to help us out.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about protecting the students and how careful we should be.  I have a hard time balancing my attitude about myself and putting myself out there and remembering that not all parents, administration and school boards are as open to that idea.  How careful to you think we need to be?  Right now our blog is protected, but eventually I would like to open it up so they can have the experience of having comments come from other places.  Any thoughts?

There are some things that I already know for sure about this type of project.  Students are ready for it, want it and are so open to trying it.  They are interested in writing and we now have the opportunity to help them improve their writing and practice it without them even knowing that they are doing it.  I can’t wait to see where this project will lead us  and what skills we can learn and develop along the way.  If you have any suggestions about things that could help us on our way, please let me know.  Thanks for the help.

Catch you on the back channel.