As things take off

SFU’s new Learning and Teaching with Technology Graduate Diploma Program started up in Coqulitlam, BC two weeks ago. What is truly different for me with this program is that while the teachers coming in to the program have a wide range of skills just like previous teachers in TLITE programs, this time they have all just dived right in. And the first dive is higher, with more bounce and flair than I’ve seen at the beginning of a program before.

Last night, in just the second class, James McConville presented on ‘Digital Learning Networks’. He covered a lot and challenged the teachers to start building an online network with a fairly comprehensive final assignment. It included

contribut[ing] to the human network [by] comment[ing] on 5 news articles, 5 blogs, and 5 other networks (twitter, facebook, etc.).

The teachers were then asked to summarize their experience and create a mind map such as the one David Warlick has done here, in his blog post The Technologies we Make. (Read about PLN’s in his post Networked Learning at Conferences and/or try his PLN Survey.)

What is curious for me is that the information James presented could be considered to be cutting edge. James had only recently attended the International Congress for School Effectiveness in Vancouver and so what he was talking about was current for him. It was new and exciting, connections he’d made at the conference and how that impacts his work. Yet this group of “new to the program teachers” weren’t out of their depth as a group. Sure, individuals picked up on different things: some joined Twitter on the spot, others busily signed up for a Google Reader account, a few were following along with the blog posts his slide show directed them to, while still others were setting up new Google Docs account for the next activity I had forewarned them about, and yes, some were wondering what was going on. But overall, these teachers were demonstrating something very exciting in the way they participated in the presentation, a kind of readiness for change. A readiness for change in how they learn and how they will teach. Immediately after James finished, one teacher excitedly told me

I’ve realized it’s not at all about the technology. It’s about me and about my learning.

That comment came through in an interesting way in the profile sheets that the students filled out after the first introductory class. For the most part they genuinely have enrolled in this program to gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively use the technology to enhance student learning in an informate manner, rather than simply to automate their teaching. The “what we know” and “what we hope to gain” Wordle art from this group is interesting to consider. In both cases the word technology was removed from the mix. In the first wordle it would have appeared 39 times, in the second 51.

What we Know:

What we hope to gain:

Finishing up another KnowSchool course

So the week of Knowschool’s Using Blogs in Education has come to an end. I’ve learned so much. I want to summarize some of what I’ve taken from the course and decided to do it here rather than on the course Moodle forum so that I’ll have it to come back to. So, here are 10 things I’ve learned:

  1. I am learning so much from other educators. All week I’ve been immersed, not only in the course discussions, but with reading blogs. So many of the course participants have great blogs. Plus, I’ve found the Top 100 Education blogs and I’m working my way through them all. I’m finding experts on all kinds of topics. I’ll be adding a whole new list of blogs to my Xtra Links.
  2. Like the 31 day comment challenge (which I’m still working on… possibly my 31 month challenge), this week has retaught me about the power of blogging for building community. So, as well as reading blogs, I’m practicing getting out there and adding my comments.
  3. I’ve learned that I really need a better system for following blogs, so I’ve revitalized my netvibes account. It’s been my browser homepage for a long time, but I haven’t used it efficiently enough. Now I’ve cleaned it up and added feeds for the best of the blogs that I’ve found. I’ve got a special section to follow my TLITE bloggers as well as my Global Ed bloggers.
  4. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned to my horror that edublogs now allows for ad links. So, if you are viewing this page for the first time, or from a different computer that you normally use, you’ll see a bunch of double underlined words that are linked to mini ads. It is distressing. I’ll add a note in my sidebar to help new visitors avoid those.
  5. I already knew that innovative teachers are using blogs with their students but this week I’ve heard about some amazing projects, difficulties that teachers run into, and successes that they have. I’ve watched an excellent video from the students’ perspective. All this has encouraged me to keep on promoting blogging as a learning tool and given me some resources to recommend. Watch for future posts regarding these.
  6. I’ve learned that blogging should have a point or purpose, particularly if it is intended for others to read. This led me to reassess whether or not my blogging was really about my own learning and reflecting or if I had expectations that it might be of interest to anyone else. So I’ve thought about, who am I writing for? And, I came up with the idea that I am indeed writing for others, any others who might be interested in entering into conversation about the topics and issues I raise. Some times that is no one, others times I’m surprised at who stumbles across my blog. When readers lead comments it always entices me to look for ways to respond, and thus conversations start. In this very digital world, I think these kinds of conversations are exciting.
  7. Surprisingly I learned that everyone twitters…well except for Jan Smith who is on a “self imposed twitter fast”. Twitter hasn’t made much sense to me. I’ve tried a couple of times. Perhaps when I get through all 100 blogs I’ll give it another try.
  8. I’ve collected a number of really excellent resources for my own teaching. This includes sites with information about blogging and tech savie stuff. Particularly good ones include Cristina Costa’s wiki, Konrad Glogowsky’s blog on How to Grow a Blog.
  9. I’ve given more thought to assessment of blogs. I like the idea of having access to rubric suggestions (such as the one by Ryan Bretag) and tools although I have to admit that I still lean towards having students self-assess their blogs.
  10. And finally, I’ve picked up lots of new ideas for adding voicethreads and video to my blogs. In this sense I’ve been inspired to continue try to be more creative in my posts.

So that’s about it. I’m not finished with this challenge as yet though as there are still more articles to read in the reference list and a wealth of other resources I’ve only looked at long enough to write a description in Diigo.

Blogs that live a story?

I’m participating in the KnowSchools course on blogging this week and so taking the time to read and comment on various blogs where I came across Lisa Read’s comment on blogging:

I’d used a blog in the past to tell a story, but this blog is more about living the story.

This is great food for thought. When is a blog telling a story and when is it living the story? What’s the difference? I’d love to hear other thoughts on this.

Why we blog?

As I read blogs, and I read a lot of blogs, I marvel and wonder about what keeps each blogger writing. I wonder when in their day they find time. What inspires them to choose that topic? What makes them believe that what they are writing is worth blogging about?

Last Friday I attending UBC’s Noted Scholar Lecture Series sponsored by The Center for Cross-Faculty  Inquiry in Education (CCFI). This one, A Faculty of Education Celebrate Learning event, Learning 2.0: Digital Cultures, Media and Citizenship for a New Millennium, featured Megan Boler, Darin Barney, and Douglas Kellner.  All three were fascinating with different perspectives on the role that digital culture and new media are playing in the creation and participation of citizenship in today’s world. Megan Boler spoke to her research which really looks at how people are participating and making sense of what she refers to as “truthiness” – that stance that politicians or others take that they are certain about something whether it is true or not.  She distinguished between video (tv, online video, etc.) and blogging, finding that the same truthiness is not generally found in blogging, but is indeed in “viral video” productions which more often invokes satire and humour.  Darin Barney spoke more to the increased politicization of technology and then Doug Kellner, in a very humorous and down to earth presentation explored the idea of media spectacle through tracing the US election thus far.  All this lead me to think a bit about the role that blogging is playing in politicizing us and involving us in more active citizenship.  So bloggers may blog for political reasons, to sway an audience, to provide a point of view or some kind of “truthiness” to borrow Boler’s phrase.

Certainly that is true in educational blogs as well. Educational bloggers, like political bloggers, blog to share ideas but is it more than that.  Are we blogging to create a “camp”? to sway others to our way of teaching?

Catching up….

Day 2 – Ok, so it is really about day 12 and I’m a little behind. I can’t bear to miss the activites and so here is my work on31 day blog challenge logo catching up. I’ve finally been off posting on other blogs that I haven’t visited yet. I haven’t done a lot so far but it is really getting out of the house here that is important. I did also manage to add a cocomment widget to my site so that I can track those comment I’ve made abroad. So that’s Day 3 covered too except that it wasn’t just joining cocomment that I needed to do, I still had to read Sue’s excellent post about various ways to track blogs. I learned a lot from that. Now I’ve joined the comment challenge group and I’ve figured out how to track a whole network of conversations.

Then, a little out of order as I often tend to be, I went looking for a blog post I didn’t agree with.  I didn’t get very far before I found myself on Hey-monkeybrain looking at some rather silly but intriguing debate questions. It wouldn’t have been hard to find something I disagreed with there as the whole site is set up not for blogging so much as debating.  An interesting tourist site for sure. But rather than posting I found myself needing to go back to drdyers site from where I had been referred to hey-monkeybrain, to post a question. (Day 4 taken care of except that it wasn’t a great questions, but hey, I’ll get better.) So still working on Day 5, finding what I disagree with, I managed to skip ahead to Day 6. After responding to another comment I came back and read that there is netiquette for doing that. (Who knew? I’ll get it right next time.) Day 7, I’ve done a few days ago almost right after my very steep learning leap into this challenge. I may be ready to tackle a repeat of that one soon.  So, tomorrow I’ll move on to finding something outside my niche, considering the allow/not allow comments debate  and my own comment audit.