Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Vision of 21st Century Learning

When my classmates in EDES 545 and I first started this final project, I never really anticipated what a valuable learning experience it was going to be or how effectively we would work together to exemplify what it means to be a 21st century learner. The idea of working collaboratively was born from a simple Skype call and the rest of the class embraced the idea with enthusiasm. I believe that everyone was willing to take the risk and try something innovative, only because we had already established a safe and supportive camaraderie throughout the course of the semester. There was, and still is, a strong basis of trust, mutual respect, positive support, enthusiasm and encouragement from all of my classmates and also from our instructor, Joanne. She gave us her trust and the freedom to explore, create and learn and without that we never would have been successful.

In creating this Voicethread, it amazes me to see how many of the 21st century skills and characteristics we embodied. The seven of us have never met face to face, and yet we have created an incredibly strong network through the use of skype, the Web CT discussion board, email, elluminate sessions, instant messaging, twitter, the wiki and this voicethread. Any time someone needed help or had a question, there was immediate support through one of these means of communicating. The group was playful and fun to talk with, bounce ideas off of and for the first time in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed doing group work this semester. Every day that we worked on this project, I eagerly checked the voicethread first thing in the morning and periodically throughout the day to see how it was changing and evolving. It was fun and exciting to see the images and ideas presented around them take shape. The suggestion of using Henry Jenkin’s article with which to build our ideas around was inspirational, and the means through which we appropriated the article and added photos, comments, web & video links to create something new was one of the first experiences I’ve had with creating something transformative. Everyone in the group exhibited utmost respect for intellectual property, being careful to chose creative commons photos or creating their own images.

The clearest concept that was exemplified in this project however, was that of collective intelligence. The idea that Ruth presented that discovery is a social process hit the proverbial nail on the head. As everyone in our class worked together on the wiki and the voicethread, real insights were made that likely never would have been otherwise if we were working alone. In this regard, the concept of synergy truly shone through. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts!

This project wasn’t without challenges for me or my group however. Multitasking on several final papers and projects at once left me, and I suspect a few other group members, feeling somewhat concerned that we would have enough time to complete our vision of what 21st century learning should look like, with the amount of content and connected reflection process that we felt it deserved. I, for one, had enough difficulty learning how to focus on each concept and how to divide my attention between the ideas without losing my ability to concentrate….all the ideas that were being presented were just so connected, it was difficult to know at times which comment to apply to which slide.

Ruth jokingly mentioned in an email earlier this week that Henry Jenkins just added one more concept to the list and who would take it on at such a late phase? That concept is evolving creation. As I look at what we’ve created in this voicethread, and I listen to my class mates’ reflections my thoughts are still connecting to other’s ideas, and building on what I’ve learned. I think this Voicethread could continue to grow and evolve indefinitely. I feel that as a teacher I am still evolving and changing, and more than ever I am truly a student who has so much learning ahead of me. This has been my biggest shift in thinking this year, and I’ve got to thank Joanne and my class mates for this small epiphany. When I started my leave of absence this year to start my masters, I felt like I was learning in isolation. It wasn’t just because I was living in relative geographic isolation, but mainly because all of my past learning experiences have emphasized individual achievement. Now, after taking the time to build my Personal learning network and making connections to people that have the same interests and passions, I feel that I have a supportive community behind me as I continue my learning. I now understand what Will Richardson meant when he stated that “learning in this environment is about being able to construct, develop, sustain and participate in global networks that render time and place less and less relevant” (Richardson, 2009. p.8)

Will Richardson also said that “we need to make these connections in our own practice first so we can thoroughly understand the pedagogical implications for the classroom.” (2009. p. 8) In Doug Johnson’s blog post on connected teaching, he also suggests that “teachers do their own learning first” and “that they should see themselves as learners in the classroom alongside of their students.” (Johnson, 2010). To me, this idea has created a whole shift in thinking about how I want to teach and interact with my students next year. I have to admit that prior to my learning this year, some of the tech tools that I’ve tried to use in the classroom have simply taken the work that student’s do on paper, and digitized it. I wasn’t giving them the opportunity to share their work with a global audience or giving them the chance to network or participate in the construction of collective cognition. When I think of what Joanne has so transparently modeled for us this year, I now KNOW what it is that I need to do to improve my own practice and to encourage my other colleagues to do. We need to show our students as transparently as possible what it is that we would like to see from them. Joanne was a perfect guide in our learning journey, as was always present in our networks through whichever means we felt the most comfortable communicating with her –whether that was twitter, Facebook, web CT, email, or by phone. As Mark mentioned in the Voicethread, we as teachers, need to be present not only physically in our students’ lives but also in their online networks. I believe Will Richardson is right when he says that we need to help our students understand and prepare for creating their own Personal Learning Networks. By demonstrating to our students that we are life-long learners as well as teachers, we can show them in a transparent way how “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, 2007).

Thank you to Joanne, Ruth, Dawn, Natasha, Cynthia, Shirley and Mark for everything you’ve taught me and for being such an important part of my own journey.


Johnson, Doug. (March 30, 2010) Connected teaching. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved from http://weblogged-com/

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks: CA, Corwin

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Technology Integration

There is no question that “integrating technology into the curriculum is a priority in most schools today” (Starr, 2009). For many teachers the system itself is mandating change by making use of new software for electronic attendance and report cards. Although some teachers may be uncomfortable with technology, I strongly agree that “educators must rise to the challenge of closing the digital divide in education” by teaching students how to “manipulate various forms of new media with a high level of comfort and skill” (Mullen, 2008). This can be a huge challenge for some teachers who lack the experience or skills to use new technology themselves. In addition, many teachers can attest that they feel they are inundated with too many daily demands placed on them by their students, parents, administrators and departmental colleagues, as illustrated in the video below:

This humorous “rant” reminded me of and article titled "All Aboard!" which stated that implementing 21st century skills instruction will be successful "only when those skills are seen as relevant to the pressing agendas that coexist in schools" (Carpenter & Carpenter, 2009). For teachers who have been around for a long time, and seen many different agendas and trends in education come and go it's easy to understand their reluctance to embrace something new. So “how can [technology] be seen as part of the solution instead of another nagging problem?” (Carpenter & Carpenter, 2009). Quite simply, teachers need to see how technology and new tools can “help make teaching and learning more meaningful and fun” as well as more effective and easier, instead of being just "one more thing" that is expected of them from administration? (George Lucas, 2010).

“Most educational experts agree that technology should be integrated, not as a separate subject or as a once-in-a-while project, but as a tool to promote and extend student learning on a daily basis” (Starr, 2009). For effective technology integration to be achieved its use should support curricular goals as well as the four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts (George Lucas, 2010). Teachers should also recognize that it is still crucial to focus on the curriculum and pedagogy, not the computer skill or technological tools being used (Norris, n.d.).

Teachers need to continue to focus on designing authentic learning tasks and guided inquiry projects that meet curricular goals, but also extend the learning outside the classroom with the use of new technology. Teachers should focus on creating assignments and projects that (Johnson, 2004):
-are relevant to the student's life
-answer real questions
-are hands-on
-allow the learner to reflect, revisit, revise and improve
-are authentically assessed, and
-are shared with people who care and respond.

There are a multitude of new Web 2.0 tools that can help achieve these authentic learning experiences in all subjects and grade levels. They are relatively easy to learn and lots of fun to use! Some of my favourites that are now a part of my daily routine are:

1. Google Earth and Google Maps – As a science teacher, the applications to Google Earth, such as Google Earthquake which show real-time data is indispensable!

2. YouTube & School Tube – There are a multitude of video clips that can quickly and easily enhance ANY lesson.

3. Google Docs – Easily allow students to collaborate and share material as they are working on group projects.

4. Google Reader (RSS)- Helps students to not only create their own, specialized ‘virtual’ newspaper of sites and blogs that they like to read daily, but can also be used to search for information 24/7 and organize a multitude of information.

5. & Diigo – Are excellent social bookmarking sites that can help both students and teachers find the information they are looking for, but also share pertinent sites quickly.

6. Wikispaces & Pbworks – Are wiki sites that are easy to set up and can be used for online collaboration projects with students.

7. Flickr – An amazing photo sharing site that makes it fun to take class photos of the activities we are working on. Many of the images that are available to students are a part of the Creative Commons and can also be used in student projects.

Teachers also need to take the pressure off themselves to be the ‘expert’ in the classroom and accept that it is ok, and even encouraged, that they “own their own learning first [and] that they see themselves as learners in the classroom alongside of their students”, particularly when it come to learning new technology and information literacy skills (Johnson, 2010). When students are in the computer lab, teachers should support them with content area and facilitate students working together in a collaborative fashion to help each other with the technology (Norris, n.d.). It will become obvious fairly quickly which students are experts and can assist their classmates (and teachers!) with the hardware and software they are learning (Norris, n.d.).

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn”

- John Cotton Dana


Carpenter, David. Carpenter, Margaret. (Dec/Jan 2008-09). All Aboard! Learning & Leading with Technology. p. 18-21.

George Lucas Educational Foundation. (2010). Core Concepts: Technology Integration. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Doug. (March 30, 2010). Connected Teaching. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Doug. (March 2004). Plagarism- Proofing Assignments. Doug Johnson. Retrieved from:

Mullen, Rebecca. (Nov/Dec 2008). Avoiding the Digital Abyss: Getting Started in the Classroom with YouTube, Digital Stories, and Blogs. The Clearing House (82) 2. p. 66-69.

Starr, Linda. (August 11, 2009). Technology Integration Made Easy. Education World. Retrieved from:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Teachers are Students & Learners Too

When I was back in Squamish for a visit last week, and I kept bumping into former students at the gas station, the grocery store, the local coffee shop and the post office. It is always so heartwarming to be greeted with a smile and “hey Ms. H, where have you been lately?” When I tell them that I took the year off teaching to become a student again, the typical response is “Cool! What are you studying?” My quick answer is usually along the lines of “Doing my masters in library studies” but truthfully, the real answer is much more complex than that. I have taken so many interesting and challenging courses this year that have given me increased knowledge and many new skills in the field of teacher-librarianship, but the most rewarding part of becoming a student again has been learning how to build my own personal learning network (PLN) through the use of new technologies. I now know that “lifelong learning is now possible in ways [I] never imagined” (Guhlin, 2009).

PLNs are learning opportunities that provide a way to move from professional development as a special event, such as a workshop or a once a year conference to “a continuous flow of learning” (Guhlin, 2009). There are many ways to develop a PLN, and many interactive and collaborative tools to use including twitter, nings, social networks, blogs, and social bookmarking sites like Diigo. A PLN becomes a “dedicated learning environment [which] is unique to each individual” and its efficacy depends on how much or how little you chose to share and learn from other individuals in your PLN (Kapuler, 2009). “What makes PLNs so great is that they are different for everybody but their goals are usually the same. That goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability” (Kapuler, 2009). This year I have been working on my graduate studies in relative geographic isolation, but I have found an incredible network of people who are passionate about Web 2.0 technology, teaching and libraries with whom I can engage in ongoing discussions and share resources with in an online, global environment. “Technology allows us to reach out and build communities based on resonance and commonality” and I have been very fortunate to find people that I can connect with, and who will continue to support my learning while I am both a student and a teacher (Tchcruiser, 2009). As teacher-librarian at my school, I often felt like I was working in isolation and didn’t have any colleagues to collaborate with regularly. I now feel that I have a supportive community of colleagues with whom I can ask questions and receive timely answers, discuss topics of interest with and who will help me stay aware of educational trends.

Building a PLN diagram. Sue waters.

I have been inspired to build my PLN and continue my professional development because it perfectly fit my learning needs this year. But I wonder how can I inspire and help my other colleagues build their own PLNs and become more comfortable using new strategies and technologies in their own classrooms? It has been shown that “technology infusion without professional development wrapped around it just doesn’t work, and can backfire” (Ketterer, 2008, p. 11). There are many methods and models upon which to design Educational Technology Professional Development (ETPD) and I highly recommend the “One Size Doesn’t Fit All” series of articles by Judi Harris, which not only details 20 different models to design professional development sessions, but also discusses which types of models suit various learning styles and how to assess if the training is effective. A variety of models should be used and the professional development sessions will be most effective if they “align with participating teachers’ professional learning needs, interests and contextual realities” (Harris, 2008, p.19). For teachers to ‘buy into’ furthering their own professional development and using new forms of technology, I truly believe that they need to see how it can benefit their own teaching practice. The national Staff Development Council (NSDC) has concluded that for effective professional development to occur for teachers it should (Harris, 2008, p.21):
• be conducted in school settings
• be linked to school wide efforts
• be concrete
• be planned and offered by teachers
• be differentiated according to teacher’s differing needs and interests
• address goals and contain learning activities that are chosen by teachers
• emphasize demonstrations, trials of new tools and techniques and provide opportunities for participants to both receive and give feedback
• be ongoing over time
• provide ongoing assistance and support

To initiate, encourage and support other teachers in this type of peer-to peer network, and provide mentorship, Gagliolo (2008, p.39) suggests the following steps:
1. Plan collaboratively with a focus on student learning
2. Create a network of support by holding regular meetings and short training sessions
3. Create professional development opportunities led by teacher coaches
4. co-teach in the classroom to provide extra support when implementing new ideas or technology
5. Observe classroom learning with constructive feedback
6. Celebrate success by sharing at staff meetings or posting on the school website

Most importantly, one of my colleagues pointed out this week, that before we begin “our quest to move into a more integrated technology-supported professional development model we first need to have a clear sense of what we are about and why” (Jorgenson, 2010). This reflective and collaborative values clarification is a vital step that is often missing in our staff professional development endeavors and sometimes in our personal professional development as well (Jorgenson, 2010). The goals need to be made transparent, conscious and explicit for all participants at the beginning of the professional development program (Harris, 2008).

Clear goal-setting that addresses how technology with benefit student needs, proper professional development that is differentiated to meet teacher needs, as well as ongoing collaboration and assistance from peers and mentors is essential to making technology integration part of teachers’ professional development. I believe Will Richardson is right when he says that we need to help our students understand and prepare for creating their own Personal Learning Networks. By demonstrating to our students that we are life-long learners as well as teachers, we can show them in a transparent way how “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, 2007).

Gagliolo, Camilla (Sept/Oct 2008). Help Teachers Mentor One Another. Learning & Leading with Technology. p.39

Guhlin, Miguel. (August 19, 2009). Light the Flame: PLNs in Schools. Around the Retrieved from:

Harris, Judi. (February 2008). One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Part 1). Learning & Leading with Technology. p. 18-23.

Jorgensen, Shirley. (March 31, 2010). Information Tech for Learning: Technology Professional Development Discussion Question One [Msg 7]. Message Posted to:

Kapuler, David. (November 23, 2009). Special Guest Post: Personal Learning Networks. The Unquiet Librarian. Retrieved from:

Ketterer, Kimberly. (June/July 2008). A Professional Development Menu. Learning & Leading with Technology. p.11.

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). The Future. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Tchcruiser. (December 5, 2009). Final Reflection eci831-09. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Waters, Sue. PLN Yourself Wiki. Retrieved on April 2, 2010 from: