Sunday, September 27, 2009

“Seeing is Believing”: A Video-sharing Assignment

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

I am spending the next two weeks visiting my boyfriend’s family on the East coast of New Brunswick. Their house is located on the St. Croix river just a few kilometers from the Bay of Fundy. I have always heard about the extraordinary tides that are the largest in the world, but until I actually saw it with my own eyes, I found it difficult to really understand how amazing they really are. Yesterday, as we floated in our canoe looking at the astonishing array of fall colours along the bank, I couldn’t help but think about the other incidents in my life that left me speechless in their unique beauty; the rare sighting of Haley’s comet when I was a child; the exceptional and eerie beauty of the dancing and colourful Aurora Borealis; or the power of the Niagara Falls. There is no oral or written description that can describe the wonder of these phenomena as clearly as seeing it for oneself. That is the simple fact that makes video images such a powerful tool. Seeing is believing.

This is the premise behind YouTube, which was developed in 2005 by Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, after a mutual friend, who had missed out on a dinner party, denied that it had ever taken place. They came up with the idea of posting videos for him to view to prove that the party had indeed happened without him (Wikipedia). I have long been a user of YouTube, but had never tried to post my own video before. The video that I chose to post was another rare instance that I was lucky enough to catch on my camera. I am an avid ice climber, and last December, when the temperatures dipped uncharacteristically low, I went out to Shannon Falls to see if the waterfall had frozen enough to climb it. What I saw that day is something that I will likely never see again – fast flowing water freezing before my eyes. This is a video I’ve shared with many friends and used in my classroom when taking about change of state

I am happy to say that the process for opening an account on YouTube and uploading my first video was as easy as floating in a canoe on a calm lake. It took less than 5 minutes to upload the video and approximately 10 minutes for the processing to take place so that it could be viewed by anyone. The straightforwardness and ease of this process was astonishing. There was no template to set up, or personal space being created. The video was simply ‘put out there’ for the masses to find. No wonder an “impressive 10 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute”! (Davies and Merchant, p. 53)

I also played around on for the first time. I was unaware that a special site geared towards educators even existed until I read about it this week in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (Richardson). What I liked about this site was that it not only provided a space for video-sharing, but it was also organized to share audio, photos, blogs and documents. It had less of a ‘marketplace’ feel and the homepage had a cleaner layout (with no advertising), providing easy links for teachers to follow updates on twitter, RSS feeds, daily emails or Facebook. However, I did have some difficulties on this site finding relevant videos. It became easier once I used a specific ‘channel’ for high school, but it simply doesn’t have the plenitude of videos that are available on YouTube. Hopefully, as this site becomes more known, it will attract more users that will in turn, upload more videos to be shared.

Video- sharing as a tool for my own personal learning

I must admit that for the two months this spring I was on crutches and couch-bound, I spent an inordinate amount of time ‘surfing’ the internet and watching YouTube. It was a lonely and frustrating period of healing and I didn’t have a TV, so watching videos on YouTube provided good entertainment for me as well as providing a social connection to the outside world. I like that the clips are short, often humorous and put up there by REAL people. It is like being able to watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos” anytime I choose.

Besides providing entertainment and a social connection, I have used many instructional “How To” videos on YouTube to learn how to sand floors or rewire my kitchen outlets for new appliances. I also regularly watch Avalanche Bulletins in the winter to stay informed on snow conditions in the mountains where I plan on skiing and ice-climbing.

Having seen how easy it is to upload a video, I am now far more likely to post videos of my ‘adventures’ so that family and friends can view them. I do have a few concerns about safety and would take care not to use my real surname, or mention the location that I live in. I would also be careful to get permission from anyone else featured in the video. Until I feel more comfortable with the masses viewing my video footage, I’m more likely to choose the option not to have it viewed by the general public but only by a list of friends or post it on my Facebook page rather than Youtube.

Video-sharing as a tool for teaching and learning

In their book Web 2.0 for schools, Davies and Merchant acknowledge that video-sharing websites “can be very useful for an educator, [but] its purpose is not to serve that community” (p.56). It is meant to be an open community that caters to a very diverse audience of all ages worldwide. The community is in control and determines what is popular on the site. YouTube does not view videos before they are posted online and it relies on users to flag the material as inappropriate (Wikipedia). This can be a cause for concern for educators. Despite their ‘copyright tips page’ and ‘community guidelines’ it has been noted that “there are still many unauthorized clips from television shows, films and music videos” (Wikipedia). What kind of message does it send out to our students when we are asking them to create authentic work and not plagiarize other peoples’ ideas, but they can easily see videos and music on YouTube that violates copyright? In its terms of service, YouTube also forbids the uploading of material that is likely to be considered inappropriate, but many schools, including my own, “have blocked access to YouTube due to students uploading videos of buying behavior, school fights, racist behavior and other inappropriate content” (Wikipedia)

Many school boards have effectively dammed the flow of ideas and possibilities that this video-sharing website could offer by blocking it altogether, and I think that this is a real shame. It is possible to portage around this obstruction and still access the content by posting a video into another web page outside the site (like a blog or class wiki). By doing this, a teacher can provide students the opportunity to discuss the video privately, as a class, and also surround it with other related materials on that subject (Davies and Merchant p.55). Another option that is less likely to be blocked is using SchoolTube or TeacherTube as a forum to post student work.

Personally, I find it far more satisfying and interesting to kayak down a class 4 river, than drift on a blow-up rubber air mattress on a flat lake. The difference being, one requires skill and proper instruction and the other requires no effort or learning opportunity. If children are going to go swimming, shouldn’t we teach them the skills they are going to need to avoid the riptides, currents, eddies and other dangers that are inherently found in water? In my opinion, the same holds true for students using the internet and in particular YouTube. I agree with the opinion that “as young people are accessing these sites anyway, we need to give them the critical skills to negotiate the spaces carefully” (Davis and Merchant p.68). This is an opportunity for learning that I feel too many administrators have shied away from, for it is cheaper and easier to post a “NO SWIMMING” sign than it is to provide proper swimming lessons and a trained lifeguard to monitor the activity.

In doing so, a powerful waterfall of possibilities has been shut down. Think of the engaging learning opportunities that video-sharing could generate from the following stream of classroom project ideas:
• Digital Storytelling (of novels or personal life stories)
• Learning objectives (like safety rules for chemistry labs or geometry tutorials)
• Promotions (for school or community events)
• Public Service Announcements (that give students the opportunity to share their knowledge of social issues like anti-smoking campaigns)
• Reenactments (of historical events)
• Documentaries (of social issues)

The possible uses within the library are also varied and include:
• Storehouse for instructional videos or tutorials to teach students (like how to use a library catalog, how to request a journal article, how to use library tools like the microfiche machine, or how to use archives and public records)
• Library welcome and orientation video
• Using the RSS feed to notify patrons of new content

My plan as an educator is to provide a safe video-sharing experience for my students. I will likely let them ‘wade in’ by introducing them to SchoolTube (or TeacherTube) or selected videos that I’ve downloaded from YouTube. However, I feel strongly that my students should be able to swim on their own by the time they are done high school and will try to teach them the skills that they need to navigate a site like YouTube properly and critically and swim with their eyes wide open.


Accredited Degrees Blog (June 18, 2008). 100 Awesome Youtube Vids for Librarians. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

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

Lamb, Annette. Johnson, Larry. (2007). Video and the Web, Part 2: Sharing and Social Networking. Teacher Librarian. Seattle, WA. Vol 35(2)p. 55-60.

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

Webb, Paula. (June 2007). YouTube and Libraries. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

Youtube. Retrieved September 25, 2009 from

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Photosharing Assignment

Reflection on the process of learning about the tool

My colleagues laughingly refer to me as the “Organizational Queen” at our school. (I have to wonder if it is due to the handouts that are colour-coded with each chapter, the daily table of contents, or the date stamps on each lab assignment?) Oh, if only they could see my closet full of outdoor gear…or my photo collection for that matter! This week’s assignment to explore and experiment with various photo sharing programs had me cursing my lackadaisical attitude towards organizing my photos from the last 4 years. I literally have thousands of photos that I’ve simply downloaded off my camera and dumped into one big folder. From a personal perspective, I finally got the kick-in-the-pants I needed to arrange and exhibit some of them. It was a daunting task and it took FAR longer than I anticipated viewing, sorting, evaluating, editing and posting a sampling to this blog. However, it was not as arduous as I anticipated due to the amazing programs that are out there to use.

I started by looking at the class’ trail fire on photo-sharing and by reading the suggested chapters in Web 2.0 for Schools (Davies & Merchant), and Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. I found that I learned the most however, by just diving in and experimenting with two different photo sharing programs. I started with Flickr since it was highly recommended in our readings this week. My single complaint with using Flickr is that I had to sign up for a Yahoo account to access it, bringing my number of (personal, work and school) email accounts to a grand total of six. (Does this not seem a little excessive to anyone else but me?) I then proceeded to try Picassa 3 since I already have a Google account registered. The two things that I really liked about Picassa was that the program automatically amalgamated every single photo and video that I had stored on my computer into the program, and arranged it according to date. This made it much quicker for me to choose which photos to upload since they were not pre-organized into folders. The physical time it took to upload the photos was also quicker on Picassa, though they were both fairly fast. I found both programs were relatively easy to use, but navigating Flickr was a bit more intuitive to me and the help section had a layout that was far more instructional and helpful than Picassa. I also feel that Flickr offers better security features, giving 19 settings to choose from, whereas Picassa only gave 3. It wasn’t until my photos were posted that I really started to have fun with the programs, investigating applications like Mappr, trip planning, annotating images and tagging them with keywords. I still have a lot of “playing” and learning to do with both programs before I decide which one to use personally and at work.

Photo- sharing as a tool for my own personal learning

I am extremely excited about the potential communication possibilities that photo-sharing has in store for me. I am the only member of my family living on the West coast, and only get to visit my family in Ontario once a year. Photo-sharing has some obvious advantages for me to keep in touch and literally see how quickly my niece and nephews are growing. I also like to travel a great deal, and being able to organize and exhibit photos for my family and travel companions to view quickly is a huge benefit. Using fun applications to map where photos were taken and adding annotations to explain them also makes it more entertaining and informative for the viewers as well as interactive if they choose to leave comments.

I wish I had made the discovery earlier about the photo-sharing programs’ ability to store and back-up images! I could have completely avoided the emotional “mini melt-down” I had last year when my computer literally got fried by a power surge in my science lab and I lost all the images I hadn’t gotten around to backing up.

Photo-sharing as a tool for teaching and learning

From a professional viewpoint, one of the greatest benefits that I can see from photo-sharing applications is a greater sense of community that this would bring to the students. I would love to incorporate more photos of my students and their work on our school website for them and their friends and family to view. As Richardson says in his book, “What better way to celebrate the good work that students do every day than by putting it online for all (or some) to see?” (p. 100).

I also strongly believe that using photo-sharing websites to view photos from all over the world would help students feel more engaged in their learning. In the book Guided Inquiry, Learning in the 21st Century it was noted that students have deeper personal learning when “the curriculum and the student’s world [are] closely aligned” (Kulthau, p.26). When students are given the opportunity to make connections to the “outside” or “real” world, they will become more emotionally involved and connected to what they are learning. Rather than simply reading a textbook about invasive species, a science class could view photos of the flora or fauna and use the Google Map application to view where they originated.

It has also been recognized for some time that “children learn through all their senses” (Kulthau, p.27) and that “technology has broadened the scope and variety of resources available for learning” (Kulthau, p.27). Having a greater variety of resources that are a combination of print and visual, like the photo-sharing applications, allows students to utilize various learning styles. I can envision the variety of projects students could create in an Art class using collages or slideshows or the digital storytelling that could take place in an English class when students post comments or have written conversations about different images they see.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and the uses and applications for photo-sharing are as broad as they first appear, this could potentially be one of the most useful and powerful tools we could implement in schools.


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

Kuhlthau, Carol. Maniotes, Leslie. Caspari, Ann. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Introductory Blog

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with technology. You know the teacher that ALWAYS seems to jam the copier in the middle of the morning rush? Or who always seems to put the printer offline? Yup…that would be me! I get annoyed and frustrated when it makes me feel inept or takes inordinate amounts of time to fix. I also get irked quite easily when cells phones go off in class or a student is text-messaging instead of reading during “Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading” time. (I think the most number of phones that I’ve confiscated during a single class is somewhere around seven). This attitude probably stems from my upbringing in the midst of Amish country in southwestern Ontario. I’m not Mennonite myself, but my parents built a log cabin on a rural gravel road and were the only house on our entire concession which had electricity until just recently. I did not watch TV growing up, had a rotary phone and enjoyed a very quiet and na├»ve upbringing.

On the other hand, I LOVE the communication possibilities and learning opportunities that new technology can present! I have many friends worldwide that I can correspond with daily on social networking sites like Facebook. I have the ability to maintain long distance relationships with my boyfriend, family, and friends on Skype for free. I can post pictures for anyone to view and also see photos of my rapidly growing niece & nephews. I also get excited about using new probe ware and motion sensors in the science lab, playing with “Google Earthquake” applications on the web with students and occupying time with my friend’s new “Kindle”.

When I went home this summer to visit my family, I took two pictures that sums up the juxtaposition that I feel about technology. The first is a traditional horse and buggy driving down our road (which is a far more common sight than cars). The second image is of an Amish farm that has no electrical lines, but a modern windmill instead. The second image really made me pause and think. Use of technology has become unavoidable in today’s society…it’s that simple. What forms of technology we use, how we use them and for what purpose have become the new ideologies that we must question and evaluate.

As a teacher, I am not yet as comfortable with computers and the internet as my students are. I got my first email account in 1995 – which is the same year that most of my students were born! (This goes to show that they have been accessing the internet for almost as long as I have.) If I am going to help teach these young adults to become lifelong learners and help prepare them for an ever-changing workplace, I need to improve my own teaching practice and comfort level with new forms of technology. If the students are going to continue to bring i-phones and i-pods to class (and they will, no matter how many times I confiscate them) then perhaps they should be learning how to pod cast and exhibit social responsibility when using social networking sites. I am really looking forward to my Web 2.0 course. My goal is to become as adept as I can be with the internets’ possible applications for education, reflect on how they can be used as effective instructional and learning tools and implement as much as possible in my own teaching practice.

Wish me luck!

PS. My mom finally has internet access…but it is dial-up!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ready to "set sail" on the new blog!

Hi Everyone :)
I've set up this blog as a requirement for my Web 2.0 course that I'm taking this fall from the University of Alberta as part of my master's program in Education. In it, I will be experimenting with various applications of technology that is new to me and reflecting on how it can be applied in the classroom. This is my first blogging experience so please feel free to post your comments and suggestions!