Sunday, December 6, 2009

I woke up to a wonderful surprise on Monday morning. The icy cold rain that had been pounding on my roof when I went to bed at midnight, had magically transformed the scene outside my window into a winter wonderland when I awoke the next morning. It reminded me of the gingerbread houses I used to make each Christmas with my sisters. We would always get carried away at the end and coat the entire thing with an overly generous helping of icing. My car was so buried under snow that it was just a blob of frosting, next to similar looking blobs of white. The roads were still unplowed and I couldn’t see any footprints where the sidewalk must be. A big smile spread across my face and I got as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. The lure of all this beautiful whiteness was too strong - I decided to bundle up and walk the two blocks to the bakery for my morning tea and a treat. I tromped through the snow, and was shocked to see that when I reached the main street, the population of Jasper had grown overnight from 3,000 inhabitants to 3,007. There, on the main corners and spread strategically up the street were 7 round, gigantic, happy looking snowman with benevolent smiles made out of pinecones. I looked up and down the block. It was devoid of any other people…or elk. It was just me and the snowmen! I grinned for a second time that morning. I was alone in my magical winter wonderland, but I also had some wonderful company to enjoy the brisk, sunny morning.

I keep thinking back on that particular morning, as I reflect this week on what my semester has been like, and it seems to be a fitting image. I made some big changes in my life this fall. Most notably, was taking a leave of absence from teaching and moving 2, 000 km away from my friends and community to reside in a remote town in Northern Alberta. The change in pace and lifestyle has been quite dramatic. Instead of spending each day with hundreds of fun, lively, and NOISY, teenagers, I have been working in my quiet kitchen each day with my computer set up in front of the window that looks out onto Whistlers Mountain. I was unsure of what learning in an online environment would be like and anticipated that this year was going to be quite lonely for me. In some ways it has been – but not quite like I expected. I found that my peers were not unlike the cute snowmen that popped up unexpectedly. I found that through building an online, personal learning network, I am able to make connections with people who have similar interests and topics that they want to learn about. As Will Richardson pointed out in an interview, “it no longer matters where we are in physical space. What matters is that we can find and connect in some way and begin conversations about thing we really want to learn about.” (YouTube). Essentially, we create our own spaces and learning environments and find our own ‘teachers’ to engage in conversations with that involve the topics that we are interested in and passionate about. I have found this to be particularly true this year, and my learning has become much more individualized, relying on the articles and blogs I choose to read and the contacts I have made through online discussions. I must say that at the beginning of this course, it was quite intimidating not to have an instructor giving step-by-step instructions on how to utilize the tools, or a list of articles to use for our research. We did however, have two excellent books as resources and the trailfires that Joanne provided for each new Web tool to get us started were invaluable! For me, this course really did exemplify self-guided, inquiry based learning. Looking back, I feel like I fumbled my way around for a bit, mainly using the online library at U of A to access most of my articles. However, as the concept of a PLN became much clearer, I started to use and reference more current articles and blogs that were having existing relevant conversations on our chosen topics and tools.

It was also a bit intimidating to just “jump” right into the course and start “playing” with the tools to learn about them. Although I do have a tendency to be the kind of person who ignores the instruction booklet and tries to assemble their item instantaneously, I also am the type of person who gets frustrated easily, and doesn’t find technology intuitive. (I usually end up searching grudgingly through the mess to find the instruction booklet.) Will Richardson acknowledges in his book that there is a wide gap between teachers that were not surrounded by technology growing up and their students who have been born digital natives. I anticipated that I was likely going to ‘screw up’ multiple times with the Web 2.0 tools we were being asked to experiment with, and I was pleasantly surprised that it went much smoother than I expected. (Whew!) Which goes to support Richardson’s claim that the tools we’ve learned about in this course have a good chance of closing this gap because “they are relatively easy for anyone to employ in the classroom” (Richardson, p 7.) So how am I going to apply what I’ve learned? Well the first step for me is to remember the few frustrations that I did encounter (why can I not find my podcast in my online archives anymore?) and empathize with my own students and colleagues as they go through their own learning process with the tools I introduce them to. These moments of frustration, that can sometimes be all too time consuming, may also be a critical point for teachers new to these tools as to whether or not they will continue to use them in their classrooms. It is incredibly important for me to remember the supportive and helpful role that my own classmates and online community played when I asked or looked for advice and his is a role I will need to embrace when helping my colleagues that are trying to incorporate technology into their classrooms.

The amount of information that I’ve learned in a mere few months is quite surprising to me. When I look back to September, the only Web 2.0 tools that I’d used previously were the social networking tools Facebook and Twitter. One was very successful for me and the other was not initially. I feel both happy and proud that I’ve at least learned the basics of these Web 2.0 tools and feel relatively comfortable instructing my colleagues on how to use them. The personal highlights of this course were playing with the tools Animoto, Voicethread and Picassa because all three have helped me to organize my photos and find fun ways to archive them so that they will not be lost, should my computer crash and burn like it did last winter. The other personal highlight was being able to organize and simplify all my bookmarks, websites and research methods by utilizing social bookmarking and my RSS reader. I am amazed at how much more efficient I am now, and it feels great to accomplish more each day in a shorter amount of time. However, I did find the pace of this course to be quite challenging, especially while taking other courses. The last 14 weeks have gone by incredibly fast. As soon as I felt I’d learned the basics of one new ‘tool’, it was time to start learning about another. I do wish that I’d had a bit more time to just ‘play’ with each tool, but on the other hand, it did give us a realistic view of how our own students will view and cope with the ‘information overload’ that the internet can sometimes bring on.

I am incredibly thankful to my classmates for the invigorating conversations that we had in our online discussions. All of them brought such unique and interesting viewpoints with them and raised some very fascinating questions as well. The range of topics that we covered was far greater than the initial five questions we had to answer and I was sometimes surprised by where they would sometimes meander. Katherine, I particularly appreciated you playing ‘devil’s advocate’ in these discussions, keeping them lively and motivating us to push the boundaries further. Bruce, your wealth of knowledge and timely insights were also valued greatly. Corey, your sense of humour always shone through and I knew that when your name popped up on the discussion board, a smile was sure to follow. Pam, your warmth, sincerity and support was also evident and well respected. It was also interesting to follow your blogs and read the different perspectives that everyone had on the same topics. It was neat to see how much everyone’s personalities have shown through in their blogs, despite the fact that we all felt we were struggling to find our own personal ‘voices’ throughout the semester. Your blogs have shown me how effective this type of writing can be at “facilitating reflection and metacognitive analysis” and developing “connective writing” skills that Will Richardson emphasizes all students should be able to do to be successful in the future (p. 27 & 28). It is through reading your blogs and the online discussions we’ve had, that I feel I have learned and progressed the most. You have all pushed me to consider how to keep students (and ourselves) safe in an online format. The importance of being critical of reliability, credibility and authenticity of the sources we read has also been emphasized for me. Most importantly, these postings and discussions have reminded me to be mindful of how personal relationships are built and maintained online and how this affects our communication skills both online and in person. Thank you all.

Where do I go from here?
Since it is going to be quite some time before I am back in the classroom and library, I feel my journey is still a personal one. I plan on using this blog to continue to find and build my own ‘community’ and Personal Learning Network over the next few months. However, I am already excited at the prospect of introducing my students and colleagues to the some of the new Web 2.0 tools that will help create collaborative learning opportunities. I saw this video called “A Vision of K-12 Students Today” (Nesbitt) early on in the semester, and it is one that I have kept thinking about throughout the semester. How can I use the new tools that I’ve learned about to give the students I teach today the social learning and communication skills they want and are going to need in the future?

One of the first things I will be doing in my science classroom when I return to teaching is creating a class blog to replace my old webpage. Currently I have photos, class notes, homework assignments, marks and missing tasks sheets, study guides for chapter tests and the provincial exam as well as links to sites which complement the curriculum. However, every time I want to make a change to my webpage the tech teacher has to upload my changes for me, as he has control over the school website. It is a frustrating and sometimes very slow process. Creating and maintaining my own blog has shown me how simple and effective it could be to create my own class portal. I would include the same information that I always have, but now would have the ability to communicate information about the class more easily and also archive course materials. If I set up an RSS feed, it could also notify parents and students when new information about the class is posted. Giving students a chance to create their own weblog is also something I would like to try. Having an “online filing cabinet” as Will Richardson calls it ensures that students work is always organized in once place and never gets misplaced (p. 22). This also gives students the ability to look back and reflect at what they’ve learned over the course of a semester, and also gives their peers and teacher the ability to give feedback on their work (Richardson). Having their own blogs also allows students the ability to create spaces where they can collaborate with others online, not only with their classmates, but with the rest of the world as well.

In the library, I would also like to create a blog that would help promote some of the special events and programs that are being offered. The blog could also be used to increase communication with the students by posting new book reviews or award lists or by creating a book discussion area to make recommendations to other readers (Fichter). Having an RSS feed could also be helpful to highlight new materials and provide community information. I also look forward to teaching students the benefits of using RSS aggregates for information retrieval when researching topics and how easily they can share it with their classmates, either by sharing in their readers or using a social bookmarking tool like

These are just some of the many ideas that I have spinning around inside my head like the snowflakes swirling about outside my window. What I have learned most of all through this course is that once shown the many ways that we can improve teaching and learning by using technology in a social, collaborative fashion, we can never look at our students the same way. Like snowflakes they are each unique, and they will build their own social learning networks, with or without our help. I think we have a responsibility to teach them how to do this safely and knowledgeably. As for my own personal learning network, I can only hope that it continues to grow and flourish, long after the snowmen have melted.


Fichter, Darlene. (Nov/Dec 2003). Why and How to Use Blogs to Promote Your Library’s Services. Marketing Library Services. Retrieved from:
Nesbitt, B.J. (November 28, 2007). A Vision of K-12 Students Today. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). Personal Learning Networks. YouTube. Retrieved from:

Image Credits:
Snowman Picture Retrieved from:

Road Sign Retrieved from:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

RSS & Blogs

After a long semester of either teaching, or being a student (as is the case this year) I always anticipate and look forward to my Christmas holidays. I especially cherish the first few days of “down time” where I can cozy up, relax and read for pleasure. My ideal day would be to laze in the couch that faces the front window, with its spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains, wearing my down booties, drinking endless cups of tea and have my dog fetch whatever magazine, newspaper or book I so desire. The only unfortunate thing with this image is I don’t have a dog. I do however, have RSS!

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

“RSS” stands for really simple syndication and is a web-based aggregator that collects many different blog or website feeds and stores them in one place for me to read at my convenience. Instead of visiting my favourite websites and blogs each day, the content that is new is delivered to me instead. Kind of like having a well-trained dog bring you all your reading material at your every whim and waiting patiently for you (minus the slobber and drool). Since I already had a Google account for email and my blog site, I decided to use Google Reader as my aggregate. It was incredibly simple to set up. Since I already had an account, all I had to do was add my subscriptions. I did this in the third week of classes this semester, as I hadn’t yet learned the wonders of adding them through and tagging. Instead, I added my 10 subscriptions that we were required to follow by using the “Add Subscription” link and typing in the names of the blogs. It was as easy as clicking the “follow” button when they appeared. Later on, when I started to choose my own sites and blogs to follow, I often just used the RSS icon that was on my favourite website to add it to my list of subscriptions. In the beginning, I added the daily newspapers that I like to read, then my favourite magazines and finally, more educational sites to build my personal learning network. I am now up to 30 subscriptions, and am at the point where I now need to make some folders to organize them into “news”, “education”, and ‘climbing’ categories.

My biggest challenge with this tool was working it into my daily routine. At first, I would check it randomly throughout the day, usually after I’d checked my email account. Now I am in the routine of checking it mid-morning (around 10 am) when I’m taking a tea break and again later in the evening before bed (around 10 pm). I hadn’t noticed this until I looked at the ‘trends’ page and saw my habits clearly displayed in the bright orange bar graph (another neat feature). I also realized that I haven’t ever checked it on a Monday (which I consider my ‘day off’ schoolwork). I am a creature of habit more than I realized! The other feature that I really like is when I log into my home page, it displays the new feeds that I haven’t read yet, so it’s easy to ‘skim’ through them all by scrolling down the expanded view, stopping to read the ones of interest and starring, tagging or emailing them to friends. If I don’t get through all my articles in a given day, it will remember where I left off the next time I log in. It only takes about 20 minutes everyday to read through my customized personal newspaper that Will Richardson refers to as “The Daily Me”. In the last 2 months I’ve read over 540 articles, showing that one of the best benefits of using this tool is being able to read more content from more sources in less time than it would normally take (Richardson 2009).

View at

I tried another neat feature of Google reader this week and that was doing a Google news search for any items mentioned on the CN rail strike. As this strike will heavily affect the town that I live in, I was interested in reading differing viewpoints on what was being published, without having to subscribe to or search every website for all the newspapers across the country. It was remarkable to have up to date information delivered to my reader without actually having to do any work. I have used the email functionality of Google reader to share some of these articles with him, but the one thing I have not yet used my reader for is sharing with a wider audience. Until now I have kept it as my own personalized information aggregate, but I do appreciate that sharing the posts that I find most interesting will help develop a broader personal learning network. This is what I hope to work on in the future.

This blog was started as a requirement for my Web 2.0 course that I am taking as part of my masters program at the University of Alberta. Similar to RSS, I chose to use Blogger since I already had a Google account set up. Each week we’ve been asked to use and experiment with a new Web 2.0 tool, research it and reflect on it’s use in our personal and professional lives. The last 14 weeks have gone by incredibly fast for me. As soon as I felt I’d learnt the basics of one new ‘tool’, it was time to start learning about another. I feel like I had barely enough time to ‘play’ with each tool, read and research their purpose and process the new information before writing about them in my reflections. Luckily, I got to use Blogger every week to post these reflections.

It has taken me the full semester to feel like I know the intricacies of Blogger and at this stage I am much quicker at editing and embedding different types of media. Over the course of this semester I have build a “home base” on this blog with links to all my personal Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picassa, YouTube, podcasts, voicethread and sites and some of the Blogs and sites I’m following with RSS. Through this blog site I have now interconnected all of these tools.

Diagram: Building a PLN. Sue Waters

RSS and Blogging as tools for my own personal learning

I absolutely love my Google reader. It allows me to stay up to date and discover new information and it simplifies my reading experience at the same time. I love that it brings the content I want to read directly to me and that each morning when I log into it I know it will only be filled with information that interests me (because I subscribed to it). There won’t be any advertising or spam to go along with it – just new content. It allows me to read more content from more sources in far less time than it would normally take me. I simply wouldn’t be able to process as many articles and new items of information as efficiently any other way. I like the ability to tailor my personalized subscriptions so much (ok, I know this could be perceived as lazy) that I actually convinced the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) to add an RSS link to their Mountain Conditions Report two weeks ago so that I could also have that information in my reader each morning. So far I’m their only subscriber, but I suspect that as more skiers, climbers, mountaineers and people who venture out into the backcountry find out about the beauty of RSS feeds this will quickly change. Frankly, I couldn’t think of a better use for RSS than spreading critical safety information that changes throughout the day. I’ve also used the Google News search function to collect information on the current CN strike, from a variety of sources, and it has completely revolutionized the way I look at researching now. It has given me an incredibly powerful tool that will search 24/7 in addition to the other information retrieval strategies I typically use. More importantly however, is the ability that Google reader has to recommend articles to your friends and share them instantly on your public page. When used in conjunction with a personal blog, it has an enormous capacity to build a personalized learning network that is catered to your interests and the ideas that you are passionate about.

My blog has undergone many changes since the start of the semester, and I think it’s going to continue to evolve until I can find a core purpose that I chose to build my posts around and with which I start to build my own personal learning network, or sense of community. When I started this course, I saw the purpose of the blog as being a ‘home base’ from which I could learn about Web 2.0 tools that are new to me and reflect on how I might use them personally and as a teacher and librarian. I thought it would be extremely helpful to document my learning of these tools, so that I would have a reference to look at, should I forget how to implement them when I go back to teaching next year. As we get nearer to the end of this course, I now see the purpose of my blog shifting from a ‘home base’ from which to experiment with new Web 2.0 tools to becoming a means with which I can build a personal learning network. However, I can see that there are some steps that I still need to take in order to attract more people to my blog and build a sense of community.

In developing my blog and trying to find my own ‘voice’ I have tried to follow Rowse’s advice and interject as many personal characteristics as I can by using my own name, sharing personal stories, pictures, videos and using examples from my own life whenever possible. However, it still feels and sounds like my blog posts are far too summative when I write about my ideas and reflections every week after reading the articles and researching other viewpoints. Right now, when I read what I've written, I can see that I haven’t asked enough questions or left space open for discussions to ensue. Part of this is due to having a structured format to follow and knowing that it will be assessed each week for grades. I know now that I need to ask more questions and show that I value readers’ opinions and hopefully draw them into the conversation by asking them to reflect on what I’ve written. My goal is to build a bigger, more interactive and productive comments section as my blog continues to evolve and become a part of the ‘bigger’ conversations that are taking place on the web.

RSS and Blogging as tools for teaching and learning

RSS can be a powerful and flexible tool for reading and sorting information while blogging can be a very effective tool for writing and expressing one’s thoughts.

For educators RSS feeds can simply help making teaching better. If your students are using blogs, you can collect them in your aggregator. This makes it much easier and more effective to scan the posts to make sure the content is appropriate and make comments (Richardson 2009). You could also provide student Weblog feeds to parents, counselors or whoever else is interested in that student’s work (Richardson 2009). It would also be very convenient for teachers to set up a homework blog with an RSS feeds that students could subscribe to so there are no more excuses “I didn’t get the assignment” (Gardner). Another way that teachers can utilize aggregators is to teach students how read in the digital environment and find content that is relevant and useful for them (Parry, as cited in Richardson 2009). Finally it could be used for “reputation monitoring” to make sure that you are aware of what is being said about you in the digital world (Johnson).

For students, RSS feeds will completely change the manner in which they gather information and sort it for its relevance. They can use aggregators to subscribe to news sources for current events or use search feeds to look for information on specific topics. For example, if they search using Google News for any information on “H1N1” it will bring any news about that virus to the aggregator as soon as it’s published. As Richardson comments it will be “like doing research 24/7, only the RSS feed does all the work” (2009).

For educators, writing a blog keeps you current. Posting regularly to a blog encourages you to actively engage in the process of information seeking and current awareness (Schwartz). They can also be an extremely valuable method of developing a community in which to engage in meaningful conversations with others that share the same interests. The can also be a great advocacy tool for exposing issues that are important to teachers and be an effective means of expressing your ideas (Schwartz).

For Librarians and libraries, blogs and RSS feeds can be a very effective marketing and communication tool. They can be used in a variety of ways as suggested by Fichter. First, they can be used to promote library events and programs. Second, they can support the users by giving updates or alerts about new books, CDs or DVDs that have been added to the collection. They could also be used to communicate with the community by posting new book reviews or award lists or by creating a book discussion area to make recommendations to other readers. Blogs and RSS feeds could also be used to support the community by giving information on local events or by streaming important news and information to the community. Blogs could also be used to build new ties with community members by offering blog posts in another language or promoting a newsletter for a specific group of members (Fichter).

Blogs have become a highly effective way to help students become better writers (Jackson). Research has shown that students write more and in greater detail and also take greater care with spelling, grammar and punctuation when they are writing to an authentic audience over the internet (Jackson). Blogs also allow students to share their ideas with a larger community, receive feedback and engage in discussions about their work. Blogs are also a means to collect and archive student work, which they can easily retrieve and use as a means to show personal learning and growth.

Perhaps the most important aspect of RSS and Blogging is the ability for people to create their own Personal Learning Networks. As Will Richardson pointed out in an interview, “it no longer matters where we are in physical space. What matters is that we can find and connect in some way and begin conversations about thing we really want to learn about.” (PLN,YouTube). Essentially, we create our own spaces and learning environments and find our own ‘teachers’ to engage in conversations with that involve the topics that we are interested in and passionate about. I have found this to be particularly true this year, as I am studying in an online format in a fairly remote location. I am also on a leave of absence from my school district this year, and my professional contact with my colleagues is very minimal. I have found that my professional learning has become much more individual and relies solely on the contacts I make through my online discussions.

As an educator, 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. Students need to be taught to read in an online, digital environment and be literate in the uses of hypertext and connected reading and writing environments (Richardson, The Future). Students today need “to be literate at developing their own connections around the world to be life-long learners in the truest sense” (Richardson, The Future). As David Warlick says “This is magical. We are able to not only access flows of information, but actually redirect it, re-combine it, further working the information to make it more valuable and to improve our own capabilities.” There is no doubt in my mind that using RSS feeds and blogs in this manner is how students and teachers alike are going to be learning in the 21st century. See if you agree with me after watching the short video below which summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today - how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime (Wesch).

Fichter, Darlene. (Nov/Dec 2003). Why and How to Use Blogs to Promote Your Library’s Services. Marketing Library Services. Retrieved from:

Gardner, Traci. (June 10, 2008). RSS: Bringing What’s New to You. NCTE Inbox Blog. Retrieved from:

Jackson, Lorrie. (November 13, 2008). Blogging? It’s Elementary My Dear Watson!. Education World. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Doug. (August 27, 2008). Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the Aggregator. Blue Skunk Blog. Retrieved from:

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Richardson, Will. (December 7, 2007). Personal Learning Networks. YouTube. Retrieved from:

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

Rowse, Darren. (October 28, 2009). The Power of Being Personal on Your Blog. Problogger. Retrieved from:

Schwartz, Greg. (October 8, 2007). Blogs for Libraries. Webjunction. Retrieved from:

Warlick, David. (June 25, 2009). Gathering the Conversation at NECC. 2 Cents Worth Blog. Retrieved from:

Waters, Sue. PLN Yourself Wiki. Retrieved on November 24, 2009 from:

Wesch, Michael. (October 12, 2007). A Vision of Students Today. Youtube. Retrieved from:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tweet Tweet: A Twittering Assignment

What is Twitter? It is a free social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send messages called ‘tweets’ that are up to 140 characters in length (Wikipedia). That is the ‘dictionary definition’, but the best description I’ve heard about Twitter was by Charlene Kingston we she said:

“Twitter [is] like a huge cocktail party. It’s like walking through a large party and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk past people. You invited these people to attend your party for a specific reason. However one they arrive, they are free to talk about anything on their mind”

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool
I got invited to my first Twitter ‘party’ almost a year and a half ago. A friend of mine, who was instrumental in getting me to join Facebook, also invited me to join Twitter.
Well, I can agree with the sentiment “The one thing you can say for certain about twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression” (Johnson). When I finally arrived at the ‘party’ is was a lonely, frustrating experience. It was like showing up to the opening of a new club that is hyped as being ‘all the rage’ but when you get there, it’s obvious you don’t know the dress code, none of the music is familiar, no one will converse with me and I can’t even find the bathroom. I felt like I was literally ‘dancing with myself’. I simply didn’t ‘get’ what this was about and decided to leave, feeling like a party-pooper.

Over a year later, I was re-invited back to the club to attend another ‘twitter party’ when I started this course on Web 2.0. After my first experience, I was reluctant to try again, but signed in once again in September (after forgetting my old name and password) and started sending the odd tweet. I still felt like I was standing in the middle of an unfamiliar room randomly babbling inane comments to myself, hoping someone would hear me and respond back. Since we were required to add a dozen or so people, I did so as soon as possible, but felt a little strange following people I didn’t know and ‘lurking’ in on their conversations. The random, short 140 character messages seemed very cryptic with their abbreviations and symbols and I had a hard time understanding what was being said. It felt like there was a radio playing in the background that I wasn’t quite tuned into.

The conversations started getting clearer and the party started to liven up a bit once I listened to Mack Male’s illuminate session from this past summer at U of A and I followed Joanne’s trailfire with its extremely helpful hints on how to get started with Twitter. The symbols stated to make sense (# is a hashtag that helps to categorize messages, RT stands for ‘retweet’, @username allows messages to be sent directly to another user). I also learned how to maximize the 140 character limit by shortening URL codes using the services tinyurl, and

I realized that if I wanted to have more fun at this party, I was going to need to invite more people and try to entice others to follow me as well. I tried to update my settings page, by adding a photo of myself. The first three photos I tried were all too large, even when I attempted to resize them. I got very frustrated and decided to just change the design of my background instead. On Mack Male’s advice, I also decided to check out to find out if anyone in my tiny town (population 3, 000) were also on twitter. I got frustrated again when I realized I didn’t have the Adobe AIR version 1.5 to support it and simply didn’t have the patience to download yet another program. Instead, I tried a quicker approach of searching using the hashtag #Jasper to see what was being said around town. Sadly, it was all advertisements from local hotels. (I’m not sure what I expected really, there is only 1 main road through town, and elk walk about freely downtown – it’s not exactly a thriving metropolis!). Since none of my personal friends (other than the initial person who invited me to join) is using Twitter currently, I tried twitter’s ‘yellow pages directory’ next to look for people with common interests. I found 444 people who listed rock climbing as their favourite activity and started following a few. I also checked out the Twitter4Teachers Wiki that Joyce Valenza recommended, which was created to help educators find other educators that teach in the same content area. I found a few interesting people to follow there as well.

The busier the party started to get, the more overwhelmed I started to feel about the hundreds of messages I was receiving. It was “like being at a party and hearing every conversation talking place”, exactly as Steve Hargadon described. I needed help organizing these messages into something that was manageable for me to follow, and I was finding the Twitter website very inefficient. I decided to download “Twitterlicious” which is a much smaller pop up screen that hides in the system tray when it’s not needed. It also displays the status of the messages, so I know which tweets are new and which ones I’ve missed.

I am now just starting to feel like this party could turn out to be very interesting! I also am starting to feel like my tweets are progressing from inane babble and useless updates on my daily routine to more purposeful messages with pass-along value. I still feel like I need to work on my social etiquette and personal ‘style’ and continue to build my lists of people I follow and who are also following me.

Twitter as a tool for my own personal learning
When I first started using Twitter, I just didn’t ‘get’ it. It appeared to be senseless babble in an overcrowded room and I couldn’t understand how to make sense of it all. With all of the tools that have been introduced to us this semester, Twitter is the one that I have struggled with the most. It may have something to do with my first negative experience, but it could just be that I am currently very happy using the social networking tools that I currently use (mostly Facebook) and didn’t see the need for adding more conversations into my life. However, as Charles Arthur points out “As with any other social network, [it is] whatever you make of it”. Have spent more time using Twitter and reading about it, I can now understand and see its incredible potential for spreading “as it happens” news, asking questions of colleagues and peers, following people or topics you’re interested in, passing on interesting things to read, observations about life or linking it to advertise my new blog posts.

I’ve come to realize that the quality of Twitter experience depends entirely on who I follow and what my personal goal is in using this social networking tool. In the beginning, I only added friends that I knew, figuring it was a simple social networking tool that would allow me to talk with friends and family. Then I began to follow people in the entertainment industry, and comedians to get my daily laugh. Once I realized how incredibly useful it can be to find current news and information, I added several media outlets as well like NY Times, Life and the Huffington Post to get my daily news fix. Finally, I have added several educational journals and experts in the field of technology and education to keep me updated on the trending information in the field of education. It’s incredibly interesting and helpful to hear the latest ideas and conversations that are happening in this field. I’ve tried to keep the list of people I follow fairly broad in variety, but manageable in number so I still have enough time to read the posts and respond. Currently, I have more people I’m following than followers, so I’m listening more than speaking right now and not fully utilizing the whole resource to the best of its (and my) ability. As Phil Bradley comments “Twitter is a resource to encourage discourse, to share ideas back and forth”. To become a more active participant is one of my goals over the next few months.

The other unique ability that Twitter offers that is a great benefit over the other social networks is that it can be accessed on a mobile phone or other devices, making it computer or web free. I have not yet explored this option yet, as my cell phone is exceptionally old, but my boyfriend purchased a new phone yesterday, and I can’t wait to try!

Twitter as a tool for teaching and learning
Although Twitter is currently blocked at our school, I can see the potential for its use in the classroom. I would encourage many of my science students to follow current news stories and real-time updates of space exploration with NASA’s astronauts or participate in events like NASA's Space Station crew tweetup that occurred on October 21, 2009 (Wikipedia). To connect with NASA on social networking sites try this link: . Social studies teachers could use it to follow current events and “as it happens” news items like the 2008 Mumbai attacks, or Public Health Department updates on H1N1 flu. Language teachers could use it as a hands-on activity for students to practice succinct writing (without abbreviations!) and converse in a second language. It could also be used as an alternative means for students to communicate their ideas and opinions.

Dr. Monica Rankin, a history Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, has her students ‘tweeting’ in class as a means of expressing their views and opinions. It is a large class of 90 students, and this has been a very productive means of sharing a lot of information very quickly. The restriction of 140 characters forces the students to focus their messages on a central point that the teaching assistants collect, and respond to at a later time. The other benefits noted by the students are that this collection of comments can be used as a study guide later and they can follow the conversation remotely if they are not physically in class that day (YouTube).

As a teacher, there are many ways that I could see Twitter benefiting my practice. It allows for many open conversations and could be treated as a ‘virtual staffroom’ where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals (Walker). It could also allow me to get information on conferences, or even ‘attend’ them remotely (College@Home). Twitter could also be a great brainstorming tool since it is ideal for sharing ideas and getting instant feedback. You can gather a huge range of ideas and constructive criticism very quickly (Walker). Using Twitter could also help me stay on top of the latest technologies as well as the latest news and best practices from other professional in the field of education. Finally, I could also see using it as a means of reflecting on my own teaching practice. “Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other” (Walker).

As a librarian, there is a multitude of ways that I could use Twitter to promote what is happening in the library. It could be used to produce updates on newsletters, reviews on new books, information on author visits, winners of contests, post updates on fundraising activities or update the calendar of events (Scott). It could also be used to highlight general information about opening and closing times, give information on staff, link to images of the library, share best practices with other libraries, take feeds from BBC, CNN or other news alerting services or raise awareness of new resources the library has to offer (Bradley). The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Having tried Twitter for the second time this semester, I am starting to realize the potential it has in my personal and professional life. I not only recommend its use, but am starting to advocate for my friends and colleagues to use it as well. However, as Phil Bradley comments “the usual Web 2.0 caveat remains in force – if you don’t see a value in it, don’t use it, and come back in 6 months to try again”. I’m certainly glad that I did come back to enjoy the party.


Bradley, Phil. (January 29, 2009). Using Twitter in Libraries. Retrieved from:

College@Home. (May 27, 2008). Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved from:

Hargadon, Steve. (February 2009). Microblogging: It’s Not Just Twitter. School Library Journal. Vol. 55 Iss. 2 page 15. Rerieved from:

Johnson, Steven. (June 5, 2009). How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live. Time. Retreived from:,8599,1902604-000.htm

Kingston, Charlene. (April 2009). Twitter for Beginners. Crow Communications Ebook. Retrieved from:

Male, Mack D. (March 9, 2009). Twitter 101. Retrieved from:

Scott, Jeff. (April 29, 2007). Twitter Update or How I was Able to Exploit the
Latest Social Networking Site Without Really Trying. Gather No Dust: Libraries, Management & Technology. Retrieved from:

YouTube. (May 2, 2009). The Twitter Experiment – UT Dallas. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. (March 1, 2009). Meet Mr. Tweet and More on Applying the App. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Walker, Laura. (April 16, 2009). Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools. Tech & Learning. Retrieved from:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Social Networking Assignment

The best costume I saw this year at Halloween was, hands down, a Facebook page. Yup, it wasn’t that fancy to look at, but it was a lot of fun for everyone at the party. A young man was dressed in laminated white Bristol board sheets, with a hole cut out for his head, where one’s profile picture is normally found. Underneath was his hometown, his birth date and his status (single, of course). He had included photos of his friends below that and had reserved the right side of the page as his ‘wall’. He keep updating his ‘status’ as the evening went on with a whiteboard marker that was hanging by a string, and partygoers were having fun writing messages all over his ‘wall’ with it as well. The costume kept changing and evolving all evening. Periodically, he would reach into the costume and pull out a stuffed sheep, or other miscellaneous item to throw at someone, or walk around ‘poking’ people. It was by far the best costume at the party, not because it was elaborate or aesthetically pleasing to look at, but because it was interactive and had, by the end of the evening, reached everyone in the room. He had very effectively created a large group of new friends and acquaintances by the end of the evening and that is the true purpose of social networking.

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

I have long been an avid user of Facebook since I signed up 2 ½ years ago in June 2007. I was invited by two friends via email to join, and did so, not really understanding what Facebook was all about or what I was getting into. The idea of being able to ‘chat’ informally and the ability to post pictures easily were the two deciding factors in joining this social network. Over the past few years, I have slowly gone through various stages and emotions with this particular tool. In the beginning, I readily accepted any and all ‘friend requests’ that I got. However, my daily updates became so ridiculously long, I had to do some serious ‘culling’ a year ago. Honestly, I had no interest in keeping in touch with old grade school friends that I hadn’t talked to in 20 years, let alone be aware of every time they frequently updated their status with “I’m going to pour another cup of coffee” or “I have to change a diaper”. The old school pictures that they posted were a giggle at first, but I can easily do without those reminders of my ‘awkward’ years. I have tried to limit my number of friends to those people who are most important in my life and whom I would happily meet for a cup of coffee given the opportunity. I have also tried to limit the number of applications that I have on Facebook, since I went through a phase early on that I fondly refer to as the ‘crackbook’ phase. When I was playing ‘scrabulous’, I became so addicted that I suspect my real-life friends were about to stage an intervention. I am now at the stage where I check it once a day, along with my email. I think I have found a happy (and healthier!) balance.

The other social networking that I was introduced to last year was the “Ning”. It is also an online social network platform, but it’s different from Facebook in that it gives members the ability to customize the features to meet the needs of a specific group of people (Gardner). The teachers in my school district (Sea to Sky) started a Ning ( to provide better opportunities for us to discuss issues, and share resources. I have created my profile page, shared photos and taken part in a few discussions, but I must admit that I haven’t yet used it to its full potential, as I took a leave of absence shortly after joining to begin my Masters. The other Ning that I just joined this semester is Joyce Valenza’s Teacher Librarian Ning ( which looks like an amazing place to share resources, read interesting and informative blogs, converse about ideas in the discussion forum, and keep updated on relevant events taking place. I just joined the group for High School Teacher-Librarians that was started by Joyce Valenza herself, and am excited to be a part of and learn from this knowledgeable community of colleagues over the next few months.

Social Networking as a tool for my own personal learning

Using Facebook and Nings as a platform to connect with friends and colleagues, has been incredibly useful and helpful to me both personally and professionally. In fact, Facebook has now replaced email as my preferred method of communication with friends and family members. I like the ‘Live News Feed’ that makes it easy for me to see what my friends are doing at a glance, and the reminders that I get to keep me informed of friends’ birthdays and upcoming events. I have used the ‘groups’ function on several occasions to plan and invite students and community members to fundraising events for our school and on a smaller scale, plan birthday parties and potluck dinners. It has given me the ability to easily share photos, videos and embed other interesting links as well as view my friends’ and to learn from their interests and musical tastes.

The two Nings that I have joined have helped me professionally as well. As the sole librarian at our school, with limited time allotted for my position, I was really feeling like I was working in isolation and didn’t have any colleagues to collaborate with regularly. These two social network ‘Nings’ have now given me a community to connect with. There are over 3, 800 members in Valenza’s Ning, and 45 different ‘groups’ to join, representing various interests such as: advocacy, Web 2.0 in the library world, visiting authors and promoting Young Adult literacy in schools. There are 319 members in the ‘High School’ group that I’ve signed up for, and so far some of the topics being talked about on the discussion forum include: discipline, online reviews, data tracking, organizational structure, support for new Teacher-Librarians and “Battle of the Books” competitions. I now have a huge support network of colleagues with whom I can ask questions, discuss topics of interest and share resources with. What a wonderful feeling that is!

In one of our group discussions, earlier in this course, we talked about teachers, the public’s perception of our profession and our public online ‘personas’. Through that discussion, I came to realize that we work in a profession that keeps us constantly in the public eye, and are often held to a higher standard of behaviour than the general public whether we are on or off the job. One thing that became apparent to me in our discussion is that since I don’t yet have a family or children to protect, I may be a little less reserved than some of my colleagues about what I post on social networking sites. I am also not in a position of administrative authority and don’t need to make disciplinary decisions that may be controversial or contentious to the general public. I also live and work in a very small town and it is unavoidable running into students and/or parents frequently and most often, at inconvenient times and it is difficult to avoid public scrutiny. Living where I do, I actually don’t feel like there is a big difference between my public and private lives. However, this discussion was a lesson, and ‘reminder’ to me to always remember to think critically about what we add to ‘personalize’ our spaces and whether or not it will be interpreted in the same manner as we intended when we placed it there, knowing that once added, it is part of the public domain.

Social Networking as a tool for teaching and learning

As terrific as social networking sites are for professional development for teachers, there are quite a few challenges presented by social networking sites, which have prompted many schools to block them. In addition to them being an, addictive ‘time suck’ as I found it to be on ‘scrabulous’, more serious issues have arisen. Cyberbullying of other students and of teachers has been the most high profile of the problems (Kuehn). In his article Renegotiating School Boundaries in the Age of Social Networking Kuehn summarizes the dilemma that is facing school administrators and officials when it comes to these social networking sites:

“The world of online social networking has developed so rapidly that conventions and boundaries have not evolved quickly enough to help everyone, but especially students and teachers, find the zone that provides both comfort and self-protection. School officials have a difficult time, in the new communications environment, knowing what tools they have to deal with conflicts that arise from social networking.”

As a result, many school boards have simply blocked all social sites. However, Stephen Abram makes a good point when he states that the “schools that block social sites rather than taking advantage of a teachable moment are missing something”. Doug Johnson agrees with this sentiment, stating in his ‘Blue Skunk Blog’ that “schools DO need to teach safety and privacy with all social networking tools. If we don’t, who will?” He has a very valid point here. Blocking Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites is not going to stop students from using them on their own time. WHEN they use them is not as crucial as HOW they use them, as this will have an impact on the school environment and students’ relationships regardless of when they access these sites. This is especially true if they are using it as a means to ruin a peer’s reputation or for cyberbullying. These events will undoubtedly affect the school regardless if they are posted from home. Teaching students how to be safe, respectful, and using good ‘ol fashioned manners in a contemporary format is extremely important. I would encourage every teacher to show the following humorous YouTube video called Facebook manners and you!

The other serious security concern that I have with using Social Networks in the school environment is the manner that data is collected and shared about you, often without your knowledge. It is a bit daunting to know that the information we post about ourselves is part of a public domain that can be viewed by virtually anyone, is shared widely and without our being totally aware of who has access to it and can be retrieved even after it’s been modified or removed (Stoddart). However, I think that this presents another “teachable moment” with students about safety and respect. I believe it’s critically important to make them more aware of what happens to the information that they ‘put out there’ for the world to see. Here is another video, developed by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that I would recommend teachers show their students as well regarding this issue.

As much as I love using Facebook, I became more aware of security and personal image issues related to using online social networks in our profession when I received my TC magazine from the BC College of Teachers last winter. In it was an article called ‘Facebook 101’ advising teachers and administrators to avoid using social networking sites. I was quite offended by this pronouncement not only because I felt that it undermined my professional autonomy to make my own qualified decisions regulating what I post, but I felt its blanket statement was not educationally sound. In Kyröläinen’s master’s thesis, he found the “existence of [a] sense of community in the Web environment, that it is not that far from the sense of community in real social environments”. When I had a discussion last year with one of my classes on why I would not add them as ‘Facebook friends’, it became apparent that many of them just wanted to see pictures of my twin sister and family members and I was more than happy to share selected photos with them. This made me realize the importance for students to be connected to their teachers as well as their peers whether it’s part of a virtual or real community. I truly believe that having a personal connection and building relationships with my students helps me be a much more effective teacher.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kuehn’s standpoint that there are too many educational benefits to using social networking sites and other web spaces to ignore or abandon them. Instead a “balance is key” (Kuehn). But what is that balance? For me the “Ning’s the thing” (Gardner). It allows for the same formation of an online, social network, but can be closely monitored by the teacher. Unlike Facebook, it allows for better control and management by the teacher. As Gardner outlined in her blog, Nings have the following safety features:
The teacher has the control to
• setup the Ning as private and open only to invited members;
• approve people before they join;
• approve all photos or videos before they are posted;
• delete any inappropriate groups or discussions
• ban members if necessary
• reverse any decisions with a simple click

So what are the potential uses and benefits of a school-developed Ning? Some of the ideas that are suggested by (Gardner) are:
• Set up discussion forums on literature circles or peer writing groups
• Create groups based on student interests like book clubs, mountain biking clubs or chess clubs etc.
• Use it as an upload alternative for podcasts, videos or photos
• Set up online journals or reading logs
• Post information for students and their families in a shared space

As contentious as social networking sites can be in the school environment, I think it’s important to teach our students how to use them safely, respectfully and for their intended purpose of communicating ideas and making connections with others. As Lee Lefever commented in his Common Craft video ( “networks get things done”. It allows you to see the connections network that is hidden in the real world. It is a new means to find jobs, new friends and even partners. As for the fellow in the Facebook costume? His was the ultimate in socially interactive costumes. He not only made a whole new group of friends and acquaintances- his status was no longer ‘single’ by the end of the evening! Mission accomplished.


BC College of Teachers. (2007). “Facebook 101.” TC Magazine. Retrieved from

Kuehn, Larry. “Renegotiating School Boundaries in the Age of Social Networking.” Our Schools / Ourselves. Retrieved from

Kyröläinen, Satu Suvikki. (2001) Sense of Community in Web Environments. Master’s Thesis. Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki. Retrieved from

Lefever, Lee. Social Networking in Plain English. Common Craft. Retrieved from:

Stoddart, Jennifer. (2007) “Privacy and Social Networks”. Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Retrieved from

Gardner, Traci. (September 3, 2008). Social Networking: The Ning’s the Thing. National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Inbox Blog. Retrieved from:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Multimedia Assignment

In my past blog on photosharing, I commented that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, this week, I found out how to add the words to the photos in two very fun, and easy multimedia websites: Animoto and Voicethreads.

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

I came into the assignment this week with no prior knowledge on how to use multimedia websites to create presentations. I was having so much fun learning about and playing with Animoto and Voicethreads this week that I got so distracted with making new videos and slideshows that I barely left enough time to blog about my experience with these fantastic new tools! I started with Animoto and found it the fastest and easiest application for Web 2.0 that we’ve used yet. Within 15 minutes, I had created my first video. It took four easy steps. First, I signed up for a basic free account that allows me to make an unlimited number of 30 second videos. Second, with a single click of a button, I uploaded 12 of my favourite snapshots from my own album. It was easy to arrange them in the order I wanted to view them by clicking and dragging them into place. Third, I chose music from the vast number of copyright free choices in their program and with a final click, the program ‘mashed’ them together to produce a professional looking video. It only took a mere 5 minutes to receive my completed video. I was delighted with the finished product and chose not only to embed it in my blog, but also email greeting card copies to my family members. The only difficulty I had with copying the HTML code and embedding it my blog, was that it was too wide to fit properly. This was easily remedied by typing over the width in the HTML code to “400” and the height to “300”. There were also plenty of options to embed it in Twitter, Facebook , or send it to an iphone. I also played with the ‘remix button’ to see some of the variations that were available. It was amazing to me that no two videos were alike.

I was also curious about Animoto’s educational website, so I tried to sign up for an account there as well. It was a bit more rigorous, as I had to include information about my school, and wait while they checked my credentials. I still have not yet heard back from them whether or not I’ve been approved. The benefit of this type of account is that it allows educators and their students to make full length videos free of charge. There is the other option of buying an all access pass for $30 per year for full length videos and professional quality DVDs. Professionals can also sign up for a license for commercial use for only $249 per year. A small price, I think for the amazing product that is produced so quickly and easily.

I also tried using voice thread, and this proved to take a little longer to produce the desired product. It was easy to sign up, and start an account, and load my first photo but I didn’t find the recording step to be intuitive. I had to watch a video tutorial to figure out how to add participants and their photos. I also had some difficulty emailing the photo directly to my family members for commenting. Instead, I copied a link and used that in an email to direct them to the photo. My mom had some trouble with her microphone, and since she is still on dial-up, I couldn’t talk her through the process over the phone. Instead she chose to write her memories of that particular day were and add it as a comment instead. It would be nice to have her voice recorded for prosperity however, so I will have to spend some time with her in person, working through the microphone technicalities.

Multimedia as a tool for my own personal learning

I am sick to death of powerpoint presentations. I am tired of using them, and I am bored of viewing them. If I never saw another clipart picture again, I would be a happy woman! I am incredibly excited to learn that there are newer, easier, more interactive and FUN methods of presenting information. I have only been using Animoto and Voicethread for a week, but I have already become addicted to Animoto. As soon as I was finished my first video, I quickly made my niece, Ruth a get well card. She had an emergency appendectomy at 1:00 am Friday morning and was feeling lousy that she didn’t get to carve her pumpkin and was going to miss trick-or-treating all together. With her video, I chose to combine photos from my own files with pictures from Animoto’s extensive collection and also to write some text on some of the slides. She absolutely loved it! Next, I made my step dad a birthday video. Then I called my mom and requested some of my childhood photos so I could experiment some more. I now have new ways to lecture, present information, send messages to loved ones or create unique event invitations.

I am also excited about the possibilities that voice thread has to offer, although I still feel that I need to spend more time learning the intricacies of the program before teaching it to my own students. I really like the idea of being able to annotate family pictures or home videos with personal messages. My mother is an only child and with the death of my grandparents, I have become only too aware that she is the sole proprietor of my family’s history. There have been several recent occasions where she has been brought to tears by looking at a photograph because she no longer has the ability to find out the story behind it. We also have several old family recipes written in my great grandmother’s thin, shaky cursive writing that we can no longer read, and would love to have her explain to us personally. With Voicethread, we now have the ability to document feelings, reflections and personal history to accompany our family ‘treasures’ so that they may be passed on to future generations. I can think of no other tool that is more valuable for sharing information.

Multimedia as a tool for teaching and learning

In our 21st century society which has become much quicker paced, media-saturated, and digital, it has been proposed that a “new literacy is required, one more broadly defined than the ability to read and write." (Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan). This idea of a new literacy includes the ability to interpret media (text, sound, images), to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments ( Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan). It is also the ability to use these skills in a collaborative fashion to synthesize the information, reflect and formulate our own ideas. One of the many challenges faced by teachers who want to develop their student's new and multiple information literacies, is the process of locating engaging, cost effective, intuitive learning technologies (McPherson). Animoto and Voicethread are two examples of free online applications that allow students to easily communicate and express themselves using audio and visual media together.

Animoto is a very easy intuitive program to use, and will quickly engage any learner in it’s unique and fun approach to communicating visuals. Its straightforward approach and its ability to create a one-of-a-kind product with minimum or no frustrations will easily encourage users to return again and again. However, as much fun as Animoto can be to present work, it doesn’t become interactive or useful in collaborative learning until it is shared with others on a blog, or social utilities like Youtube or Facebook. I feel that Sprankle is right in his opinion that Voicethread is one of the better tools to bring “creativity, innovation, communication, and collaboration with a global audience into your classroom”. The real power of the tool comes from allowing other people to comment on the content within the voicethread. Comments can be typed, recorded by voice or video, uploaded as audio, or even recorded by phone and you can even draw on the slides to illustrate a point (Sprankle). The other benefit that voicethreads offer is the ability to post student work which “allows for reflection and conversation that can transcend the limitations of the classroom” (Sprankle). Students or parents can add to a discussion from home, and other teachers and students from around the world can also join in. This allows the participants to engage in discussion and explore course material more deeply while practicing critical thinking (Voicethread).

As a teacher, I like the idea of being able to post student work to share with a larger audience, but I also like having the option of moderating the comments or controlling the settings to be public, private or only shared among peers within a class, and this is allowed by voicethreads. I also like how voicethreads can be downloaded as a QuickTime movie which also allows for easy archiving.

So what are some of the best uses for students? The ideas are almost limitless, but I particularly like these suggestions found in Voicethread’s own library:
• Create a portfolio of work with annotated presentations or explanations of the work they have done.
• In English and language arts, students can present stories they have read or written, have asynchronous conversations about books, share poetry and writing combined with their artwork or photos or document a ‘day in their lives’.
• In a foreign language class, it could be used to introduce vocabulary, images or text and engage students in oral practice of the language.
• In a math class, it could be used to demonstrate knowledge (like a geometry lesson or measurement and ratio) or it could be used to get students to work together to develop problem solving strategies.
• In a science class, voicethreads could be used to explain diagrams (like water or nutrient cycles) or as a walk-through a virtual dissection.
• In a social studies class, students could examine historical photos and comment or read and share historical letters.
• In a visual or performing arts class, student artwork could be combined with words, visuals or music.

There are also many ways in which teachers can benefit from using voicethreads. The first use that comes to mind is to engage in conversation with colleagues and use for reflective practice. It could also be used for professional development presentations or while introducing new technology for education. Teachers could also develop instructional videos, tutorials or give a dynamic lecture. This format engages students in an interactive environment better than any ‘downloadable’ (i.e. podcast or videocast) lecture can. It could also be used to improve communication with parents by creating newsletters or putting together a presentation of a field trip so parents could ‘come along’ with their children (Sprankle).

In my opinion, Animoto and Voicethreads are an excellent way to incorporate new digital and visual literacy skills in multimedia presentations which will help to prepare students for multimodal communication in future work and social environments. At the same time, they provide a fun way to create a culture of participation and collaboration in the classroom and perhaps with a larger audience.


Jones-Kavalier, Barbara R. Flannigan, Suzanne L. (2006). Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century. Educause Quarterly. Vol. 29, No. 2.
Retrieved from:

McPherson, Keith. (June 2009). Mashing Literacy. Teacher Librarian. Vol 35, Iss. 5 Retrieved from:

Sprankle, Bob. (October 2009). Voicethread. Urbana. Vol 15, Iss. 1 Retrieved from:

Voicethread Digital Library. Retrieved from:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Wiki Assignment

This week I decided to create a Wiki for the Don Ross Secondary School Outdoor Leadership class’ annual fundraiser. This Winter Gala is the major fundraising event for this class of 26 students who spend their entire semester outdoors; cross country and downhill skiing, learning about avalanches, snowshoeing, building snow caves, orienteering, rock climbing, kayaking the sunshine coast, and hiking the Juan de Fuca trail. Most importantly though, they learn about becoming leaders in their school and community and raising environmental awareness for the amazing area in which we live. This is the seventh year of this special teacher designed program and it would not be possible without a successful fundraising effort. In the past, the has generally raised around $7000.00 to cover the cost of the trips, guides and equipment incurred in the courses. The winter gala fundraiser is generally organized by a committee of parents and the two lead teachers of the program. It involves several months of careful planning and a virtual avalanche of email communication in addition to the face-to-face meetings. I am hoping that by creating this wiki, I can improve the communication and organization for the event planners and contribute in some small way to this amazing endeavor since I am on a leave of absence and unable to be on the organizing committee this year.

The Wiki can be found at

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

The word ‘wiki’ is a short form of the Hawaiian wiki-wiki, which means ‘quick’ and I found out this week just how quick and easy it is to design and edit a wiki website (Richardson). Once again, I found Will Richardson’s book and excellent place to start learning about wikis. Upon his recommendation, I went to wikispaces found at and signed up for my own site simply by giving a username, password and email address. I choose a wikiname (no spaces allowed) and I was set up quicker than you can say ‘wiki-wiki’! I like how the opening page of wikispaces has a very comprehensive tutorial of how wikis work. I must admit that I didn’t finish the entire tutorial however, because I was anxious to just get started and try it out. With a click of the ‘edit’ button, I wrote a quick introduction on the home page (which I’m sure one of the teachers of the program will edit and alter soon). The only thing that I was unsure of at first was that after I hit the ‘edit’ button, my computer had a rather long pause before allowing me to write. I wish the response time was a little ‘wikkier”. I found that it was incredibly easy to add pages and sub pages. All I had to do was type the page name “Advertising”, highlight it with my cursor and click on the link icon on the toolbar. When the dialogue box popped up, it was already in the ‘Link Text’ and ‘New Page Name’ spaces. As soon as I clicked ‘OK’, the new page was produced. I easily organized the wiki site with various pages for advertising, ticket sales, sponsors, concession, entertainment line-up, set up and take down duties, as well as a list of committee members. When I set up the wiki, I had an option of whether or not I wanted the site to be protected or open, and I have chosen protected for now, so that only the invited members of the committee can made changes. Inviting them was incredibly simple as well; all I had to do was click on ‘Manage Wiki’ and ‘Invite People’ and type in their email addresses. I was planning to embed a calendar from Google calendars, but have not yet heard back from the teachers on specifics for meeting dates and a general outline for when specific duties had to be done. I am hoping that in time, the other teachers will also be inspired to add photos of the students in the program, as well as advertise the sponsor logos. The beauty of the wiki is that it is ever evolving as the planning progresses.

Wikis as a tool for my own personal learning

I tend to use Wikipedia a fair amount for my own personal use whether it is to find the actor in a certain movie, look up a new sailing term or find out the most recommended varnish for refinishing my furniture. Already this week I’ve used wikirecipes to find a chicken pot pie recipe, wikiquotes to find a quote from a movie I’d watched and wikiquestions to figure out how to install the block heater on my car. Wikis are unquestionably a fantastic online resource for looking up these random bits of information. However, even though I’ve found it useful personally, I still had this nagging distrust in the site as an educator. It’s hard to get past the bias that it is ‘unreliable’ because so many different people are contributing to this wealth of information and yet, I have no idea of their credentials. After reading a few articles this week, I am starting to change my mind and realize the impact and important role that wikis can serve. It was encouraging to me that wikis are starting to be critiqued by scholars and their positive endorsements are heartening. I read the article mentioned by Will Richardson called “Grading Wikipedia” and in it, several Colorado scholars were asked to review entries on several topics and rate them. Four out of five agreed that Wikipedia entries are “accurate informative, comprehensive and a great resource for students” (Booth, 2007). The fifth scholar found some details to be “inaccurate by omission” (Booth, 2007). I am starting to become less skeptical about Wikipedia, but I still believe that it should be used as a starting point for research and that the hyperlinks listed in the references should always be evaluated and critiqued carefully.

An interesting thought occurred to me as I was setting up the Winter Gala wiki, and that was although I am an avid user of the wiki for personal reasons, I have never contributed to one before. The whole concept that wikis and Wikipedia in particular are there for “the collaborative construction of knowledge and truth that the new interactive Web facilitates” had escaped me until now (Richardson p.57). The main rationale and principle behind the Web 2.0 technologies is to collaborate and contribute - whether that is to a class or a much larger, global audience. I readily share ideas and collaborate with my colleagues, but why I have never collaborated on a larger scale before? Why have I only been a passive recipient of this type of information? This has made me think back to the blog I wrote on social bookmarking. At the time I was exploring that Web 2.0 tool, I was also starting to wonder if my students not only communicate differently than I do, but actually think differently too? If this is the case,then communicating in an online format is like any other skill – it needs to be practiced and developed to become inherent and effective. I am still not at that stage yet with my blogging, as it is not yet incorporated in my daily life. I am interested to see if the wiki will be an easier platform in which I can collaborate and communicate.I am hopeful that as this course progresses and my comfort level with these tools increases over time, I will have fewer, and hopefully no, hesitations to contribute my own knowledge and information to various wiki sites.

Using Wikis as a tool for teaching and learning

As teachers we all know too well that students eagerly use Wikipedia when starting their research on the computer. As the old adage goes ‘if they are going to be doing it anyways, we might as well teach them the proper and safe way to do it’. Why not use Wikipedia itself as a means to teach students to critically evaluate websites? By getting them to check the hyperlinked references at the end of each page, it not only encourages them to research further, but also allows them to gather information, compare accounts, gain more background information and evaluate the site critically (Davies and Merchant, p. 92). It can also be used to teach students the concepts of community collaboration, and respect for other people’s ideas (Richardson). Most importantly, it can help teach collaboration and negotiation skills and allow students to teach each other and share what they know with a larger audience (Richardson, p. 60). The possibilities for class wikis are almost endless and FUN. Students could create their own virtual textbook. As they progress through the year, small groups could be responsible for updating the wiki on a weekly basis with the topics they’ve been learning and add relevant links, photos or presentations (Hudson). Students could also explore Omnictionary or another book-related wiki and then be challenged to create a wiki for the book they are currently reading in class (Hudson). They could add information about the characters as they develop, or add biographical information about the author. Foreign language teachers could also use wikis as a way to organize vocabulary words by theme or unit of study. That way kids have quick and easy access to an online dictionary customized just for their class. They could also use their wiki to link to places where the language is prevalent (Hudson). Socials classes could also use wikis to follow current events since they allow immediate publication of events as they occur (Davies and Merchant, p. 91).

For teachers, the use of wikis can be very creative, but also very functional. Wikis could easily create a portal for lesson planning and sharing to occur, as demonstrated by sites like wikibooks (Richardson, p. 63). Wikis for teachers could also decrease disruptions of instructional time by posting daily staff notes on a school wiki instead of putting them in daily announcements over the public address system (Nielsen). Another potential benefit of a teacher used wiki could be to make meetings more efficient. All team meetings and planning can be coordinated right on the wiki, giving staff and administration an opportunity to see what is happening in other departments around the school. This wiki could also incorporate discussion boards for conversations to take place outside the meetings (Nielsen). Wikis could also be used to enhance professional development, by putting up any important materials being use in seminars to one wiki site. Again, discussion boards could also be used to elicit feedback and keep the conversations going afterwards (Nielsen).

In the library, wikis can be a useful way to manage knowledge. When I started at my school as the librarian, no information had been previously documented on the use of the computer system, the department routines, standard operating procedures, or the organization and collection policies. There was also no anecdotal information of best practices from the previous librarian. I simply had to start from scratch and it was incredibly frustrating. Over the years, I have documented everything that I do in my role as librarian and the binder of information has become rather large. Since I am on a leave of absence this year, I passed on what I affectionately call the “library bible” to my successor. I can now see that a much more efficient way to share this information and knowledge would have been to create a library wiki. This way, the teacher librarian this year could also add her own knowledge to the framework that is already there. As noted in the article “Wikis in the Workplace”, having a wiki to manage knowledge of this type “can help improve efficiency, accuracy, and consistency of information use within the organization” (Kille, 2006). In addition to our school library, having a wiki or knowledge management system that is similar could “help libraries remain competitive in an era of constant change by facilitating the rapid transfer of knowledge” (Kille, 2006). Once again, the benefits of creating a collaborative system of sharing information and knowledge cannot be denied.

Although the use of wikis for class projects may present some challenges for evaluating work done in a collaborative fashion, I still see the potential uses for wikis as being truly astonishing. I am curious to see how the Winter Gala wiki I created this week evolves and changes as the event is being planned.


Davies, Julia. Merchant, Guy. (2009) Web 2.0 for Schools: Learning and Social Participation. New York, NY: Peter Lang

Hudson, Hannah Trierweiler. (Sept/Oct. 2009) How to Teach With Wikis. Instructor. Vol 119, Iss 2 Retrieved from:

Kille, Angela (March 2006). Wikis in the Workplace: How Wikis Can Help Manage Library Reference Services. Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal. Vol 16, Iss 1. Retrieved from:

Nielsen, Lisa. (July 2009). Eight Ways to Use School Wikis. Tech & Learning. Retrieved from:

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Friday, October 16, 2009

Podcasting Assignment

Since I watch the movie “Walk the Line” earlier this week, I’ve had the Johnny Cash song ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ stuck in my head.
I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when..

My climbing partner laughed at me on Friday when it started to rain in the middle of our ice climb and cold, wet and miserable, I started to sing it as loud as I could. It seemed only appropriate that we could hear the ubiquitous echoes of trains down in the valley below us. He agreed to bail on the climb and come back to the house for a warm drink and be interviewed by me instead for my podcasting assignment.

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool
I was extremely glad that I read Will Richardson’s section of “Getting started with Podcasting” in his book before attempting to podcast myself. I started out by taking his advice and downloading the open-source program Audacity. It was free, and very easy to record with. I then downloaded Audacity’s MP3 encoder (Lame V3.98.2) to translate my files into MP3s. This step took a little bit longer than down loading the Audacity program. (Due to software patents, Audacity cannot distribute the MP3 coding software themselves.) This multi-step process was explained quite well on the website, but I found that I had to keep my browser open to follow the instructions exactly. The tricky part occurred when I exported my first ‘test’ recording as an MP3 file. Audacity prompted me for the location of my “lame-enc.dll” file and if I did not have the browser still open with the instructions, I likely never would have found were it was located on my C: drive. This finally allowed me to export my recordings as MP3 files to be used on other sites or archived.

Once I had the initial set-up complete it was full steam ahead! I had a lot of fun recording and playing with the audio-editing program in Audacity. I will admit that I did end up using the ‘Help’ menu a fair amount as none of the shortcut ‘tool’ keys had symbols that I recognized. I imagine that it would be a fairly intuitive program to use, if one had any prior knowledge of ‘GarageBand’ or other music-making and mixing programs. I chose to import music from and was thoroughly impressed with the selection of free music that was available. It was categorized by topic and mood which made it easy to find a piece that suited the interview I wanted to enhance. It was actually fun to experiment with lining up the various tracks and interview ‘takes’ and fading in music at the end. It is by no means a ‘professional’ recording, but that is what makes it feel authentic and is the charm of this type of recording I think.

What slowed me down to a virtual stop was figuring out how to post my recording to my blogger account as it does not have any automatic support for ‘enclosures’ like MP3 files.
Thankfully, I picked up speed again when my classmate Annabelle Pendry suggested a slide share presentation outlining what to do. I followed the prompts and opened an account on This allowed me to save my audiofiles, and get an html code that I could then copy and embed in my blog. Voila! I had arrived at the destination! The only difficulty with this step was that it worked well only when the archive screen was open. Once it was closed, I could no longer log in and find my own archived material, no matter how hard I tried. (I guess the moral here is to get off at the right station, since there’s no turning around the train.)

Since I am such a big fan and regular user of Skype, I also decided to follow another track to see if I could record a conversation from Skype and then podcast it. I had already downloaded and installed the software for both Skype and PowerGramo, so it was easy to experiment with. I just had to dial up my friends and record; then transfer the file to Audacity, edit it, and export it as an MP3. The process was virtually the same. The only catch for me, was that the basic (free) version of PowerGramo only allows Skype to Skype calls, and if you want to call or conference with a landline, you have to pay for the upgraded ‘professional’ version.

Podcasting as a tool for my own personal learning
Since I discovered the website TEDtalks, I have been a podcasts enthusiast. I love being able to download any of the various shows to my ipod and listen to them while driving or working out. Researchers have found that "part of the appeal of podcasts is that users can listen to these audio files whenever they want, wherever they want, as often as they want and on the device of their choice" (DeVoe, p. 78). Besides the ability and ease of multitasking while listening, there is something more personal and appealing to me to listen to someone’s voice present an idea or a conversation for debate than reading about it. All week in our class discussions about how to personalize our little spaces on the web, my group has been questioning and reflecting on how to develop our own ‘voice’ or authenticating our sites through our writing styles. I can now see how effective the use of embedded podcasts can be as well, and I look forward to hearing my classmates’ voices for the first time this week.

There has also been a lot of concern about whether or not communicating online is an authentic means of forming relationships and it has been noted that the “existence of [a] sense of community in the Web environment, that it is not that far from the sense of community in real social environments”( Kyröläinen). However, many people in the class discussion felt that there needs to be a healthy balance between ‘online’ relationships and ‘real’ relationships. To me, using podcasting or Skype (especially with video) is a much better means of enhancing communication and online relationships and can actually assist with real relationships when separated by distance. I have used Skype so frequently over the past 4 years that I have purchased a Belkin Skype phone (about the size of a cell phone) that I use more than my actual cell phone. My entire family lives on the East Coast and in Ontario and this has been the best way for me to maintain communication in between yearly visits. It is fun to take photographs and record my nephews singing “Happy Birthday” to me. (I suppose I could always podcast these back to them later, when they are older.) I have also had personal relationships that never would have ‘left the station’ so to speak, if it were not for the ability to see each other and talk over Skype while separated for long periods of time.

Podcasting as a tool for teaching and learning
I was ‘derailed’ this spring for several months when I injured myself rock climbing. I was on crutches and unable to return to the classroom for the last two months of the school year. This caused an incredible amount of disruption and frustration for my students who had to deal with and adapt to a number of different substitute teachers. I only wish I had read the article “Injured educator teaches her students via 'Webinar'” while I was stuck on my couch! In that particular article, a teacher taught her class from home while recovering from knee surgery. Her students really “liked the idea of connecting with [their] regular teacher from home instead of relying on a substitute and felt that if their teacher was “unable to be in the classroom, a teleconference [was] the next best thing” (White). I wish that I knew then what I do now, and could have podcasted some key lessons for them that proved to be so frustrating. It would have also served a good purpose for reviewing before the provincial exam, and hopefully would have avoided the additional stress and aggravation that they felt in my absence. At the very least, it might have served to lessen the transitional disturbance between myself and the substitute teachers if they heard from me personally why I was away, and that I did indeed miss them!

In the library, there are several possible applications for podcasts that could also change the way we communicate. There have been some “early developments by public libraries which are starting to use podcasts to advertise library news, market services to library patrons and develop audio books” (Berk et al). Podcasting could also be very relevant in school libraries to ‘host’ book talks with authors via Skype, alleviating the cost and travel inconveniences for author visits. Student reviews of books and recommendations could also be recorded and archived to help other students choose reading materials.

In the classroom, the possibility for engaging students and appealing to different learning styles, especially the auditory learner, is seemingly endless. Researchers have commented that when “teamed with other support material such as print or online guides and face to face classes it can be a valuable addition to the learning process” (Berk et al). However, to appreciate the true value of podcasting as a classroom activity, we have to move away from the common definition of podcasting as a means of speaking our minds or ‘lecturing’ and “consider it as a way for a student to express creativity and share it with others” instead (Criswell). The real power of podcasting as a tool for teaching and learning is that allows students to create material or contribute ideas to a larger audience or store it for future audiences to use (Richardson p. 113). Some of the possibilities for student participation as noted by Richardson include; Language teachers could record and publish daily practice lessons to aid in acquisition of a new language; Social studies teacher could have students do oral histories, reenactments of historical events or interviews (as I’ve done in my podcast embedded below); Science teachers could have students narrate and record observations for lab experiments or dissections which could be too messy to write down; Music teachers could record recitals or concerts or showcase music solos that cannot fit in a major concert (Richardson, p. 114)

We should also consider these additional creative ways that Criswell suggests using podcasting to enhance student learning in the classroom:
• as remedial assistance for special needs students
• as makeup work assistance for absent students
• as a way to provide validation for grades
• as a visual/audible way to share a student's progress at conferences
• as an incredible public relations tool.
In my opinion, the simplicity of equipment needed for digital recording, the low cost involved, the immediacy of producing results and the fun involved make podcasting one of the most powerful classroom tools that we have considered to date in this course.



Berk, Jaya. Olsen, Sonja. Atkinson, Jody. Comerford, Joanne. Innovation in a podshell: bringing information literacy into the world of podcasting. The Electronic Library. Oxford: 2007. Vol. 25, Iss. 4; pg. 409
Retrieved from

Criswel, Chad. The Value of Podcasting. Teaching Music. Reston: Oct 2008. Vol. 16, Iss. 2; pg. 26, 2 pgs
Retrieved from

DeVoe, K. (2006). Innovations affecting us - podcasting, coursecasting, and the library. Against the Grain. Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 78-79, 85.

How to embed a podcast into a Blogger. (n.d.). Slideshare [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Kyröläinen, Satu Suvikki. (2001) Sense of Community in Web Environments. Master’s Thesis. Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki. Retrieved from

Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Rumpler, A. (2007). Podcasting in Library Research: A discussion of three projects developed using new audio technologies. International Association of School Librarianship. Selected Papers from the Annual Conference. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 1563504601).

White, Davin. Injured educator teaches her GW students via 'Webinar'. Saturday Gazette-Mail. October 18, 2008. Retrieved from: