Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The time has come, the blogger said. . .

"The time has come",
the blogger said,
"to reflect on many things...
On Podcasts, Wikis, Voicethreads,
the Blogosphere and Nings."
(my attempt at reworking Lewis Carroll)

Oh, yes, it's time to wrap up and reflect on my learning in EDES 501, but where did the term go? I can't believe our family is already decorating Rudolph cookies (or as Liam used to say, Rude Elf Cookies) and counting down the sleeps to Christmas. In a time of looking forward, it's hard to stop and glance back. But it does help to provide closure, so here goes...

Back in September, I was very excited to start a blog with a purpose - and to see some web tools that I was familiar with like Flickr and Facebook. I was equally excited that we would be learning some tools I'd been curious about, but had not tried, such as Podcasts, RSS feeds and Wikis. At the beginning of the course I had no idea about Nings, Voicethreads, or Social Bookmarks, so I was a little worried about entering uncharted territory. Overall, I think my comfort level with the course was quite good because I felt a balance between what I already knew, what I wanted to know, and the unknown.

Like Jan, there were times I wished I was in a classroom/library so that I could use the tools immediately for educational purposes. Instead, I used my children, my husband, and my friends as participants (for Podcasts, Voicethreads, Nings and Wikis). This was very rewarding for me as I got to witness the tools from different perspectives. My children were completely comfortable with the technology, and excited by it. My husband was interested in it as a fellow educator with a particular expertise in New Literacies. My friends, however, were much less comfortable with it. I invited several of them to join me in co-writing stories on my Wiki (Storybutter), but the process of signing up and navigating the site was daunting to them, and most did not even try. These 3 different perspectives gave me an insight into what I will most likely experience from staff and students at school: feelings of excitement and curiosity merging with, or struggling against feelings of wariness and apprehension. It is good to be prepared for diversity, and I look forward to rising to that challenge.

The hands-on requirement that we explore and blog about a different tool each week was definitely the highlight of the course for me. I enjoyed being able to create Podcasts and Voicethreads with my kids, and often looked forward to reading classmates blogs to see how they approached each Web 2.0 tool. It was interesting to see that we all had the same topics to work with, but our approaches were unique. One drawback of learning a new tool each week, however, was the fact that I felt I didn't have enough time to explore my classmates blogs the way I wanted to. I had to race through the blogs, and leave them behind so I could gear up for the next topic. I was able to comment here and there, but rarely got to check for follow-up. I was also aware that my classmates and instructor were in the same rushed boat, so I tried to be as brief as possible in my writing.

While I could see schools benefiting greatly from most of the tools we worked with, there were a couple that I did not connect with entirely. RSS Feeds and Social Bookmarks were my least favourite. That is not to say that they are not important or useful - in fact they will likely become more meaningful to me when I am in a teaching or library position and can use them in a more professional manner - I just didn't get as excited about them as the other tools.

The good news is that I feel like a path into Web 2.0 has been created for me and my future students and staff. I know that technology changes quickly, and by the time I am in a position again, there will be another fountain of great tools to dip into. With all of this exploration in Web 2.0 behind me, I feel certain I can explore any new tools with confidence. I now know where to go for guidance - I am familiar with leading voices in Web 2.0 like Will Richardson and Doug Johnson - and will likely continue to follow their blogs so that I keep as current as possible.

In closing, I would like to thank my fellow EDES 501 classmates, and my instructor, Joanne de Groot - it was a pleasure learning with all of you this term, and I wish you the best! Now, if we were in a real classroom, instead of this virtual one we've created, I would pass around a tin of "Rude Elf" cookies and wish you all a "Happy Holiday!" In the spirit of Web 2.0, I'll share the photo with you instead.

"Tea for [Web] 2.0," said the blogger,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we visit you again?"
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd explored every one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Little Dream - Sharing a Ning

I have a little dream, and it goes like this: the K - 9 school I taught at last year in Winnipeg would be transported to Vancouver Island, and I would continue on as Teacher-Librarian with the most amazing staff and the most incredible and diverse kids on the planet. In that same dream, the blockade (restricted internet access) on several of the Web 2.0 tools we've learned about this term would be lifted, so I could proceed with a plan to integrate these powerful tools into the school. I would begin by setting up a school Ning where each class would be a member (note, not each student, but each class) and have their own page on which to post various learning activities. I envision teachers modeling reading, writing and participating in the Ning. I imagine class-to-class discussions and inquiries, and students becoming excited about sharing what they are learning with other classes. It's a nice dream.

Why I chose Nings instead of Blogs as my First Tool to Share

This weeks blog assignment was to pick only one Web 2.0 tool to share with our staff and create a plan for keeping the momentum going with that technology. It wasn't easy to choose just one tool, but I narrowed it down to either Blogs or Nings. I like both as a platform to teach/learn the other Web 2.0 tools (they are both great vehicles for podcasts, voicethreads, photos and videos to ride in). In the end, Nings won out because the social networking atmosphere fit best with my dream.

I discovered a thoughtful comparison of Nings and Blogs on Steve Hargadon's blog:

The threaded discussion forum is really the key, more than anything else, and it's part of what makes Ning and other social networking platforms in eduation so significant. While blogging, it can be argued, is very much a "look at me" medium, a threaded discussion is much more egalitarian and more conducive to "good" (tempered? thoughtful?) conversations. On a blog, the main author is on a pedestal, and blogs tend to favor posts which reflect the self-importance of the blogger or comments which tend toward extremism--likely because these are often the ways to get attention in a mass of information. The threaded discussion allows the asking of questions without the need to appear authoritative, the giving of responses that can be part of the answer, and where the contributions
of many will ultimately produce a more nuanced, and thoughtful, outcome.

Well said! The idea of creating a space for our school to come together as a community engaged in a thoughtful conversation about their own education is exactly what I want to create. The blog could work too, but there would definitely be a sense that someone is more in charge than the others. Ideally, the Ning would invite participation and ownership in a way that the blog could not.

Bringing the Ning to School

I would start the process by getting a Ning committee together to work out the logistics of how we would use the Ning in our school. The committee could consist of teachers/administration/support staff/students/parent volunteers. I would approach individuals whom I knew were eager to develop and use Web 2.0 tools in their teaching. Now, why would I start a committee to do something I could do myself? Because, I think it's important to invite participation even at the start-up level. Staff and students will be more likely to make use of this tool if they play a part in its creation.

The Ning Committee would:

  • Name the Ning - this seems trivial, but is it? What the staff and students call this space may just be as important as the space itself. After all, people won't go to a space they can't pronounce, or visit one that doesn't sound inviting. The name of the Ning is the first impression of the ning itself.
  • Create a team vision of what the Ning can become. I imagine each classroom could write a weekly entry on their page about their week of learning. It would be exciting to create classroom challenges such as: Name that Picturebook, Riddle Me This, If our Class took a Magic Schoolbus Fieldtrip, What is your Class Reading? Does your Class have a Dream?
  • Decide how the ning will be introduced to the rest of the staff. I would suggest sharing the vision at a staff meeting first. Then, have students on the committee create posters: "The Ning is Coming!", or something along those lines. Over the morning announcements, I would have someone ask: "the question of the day is what's a Ning, and why do we need to know?"
  • Come up with a plan to encourage reluctant teachers. This might include offering to model posting on the Ning, or asking student volunteers to assist the teacher during posting.
  • Work out the logistics. How often will classes be expected to Ning? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? My suggestion would be to start out weekly with some school-wide Ning challenges to encourage participation immediately, trying to make it a healthy habit. Perhaps every Friday could be "Ning Day," where the classes check the Ning Discussion Threads.

To [N]in[g]finity and Beyond!

I hope I have clearly shared my dream of a school-wide Ning with you. I think this plan would be a very good starting point for many of the teachers, as the Ning would allow them to get as creative with the technology as they are comfortable. It would be an excellent tool at promoting community-building. Furthermore, by using Nings as a whole class, teachers may then become inspired to create their own Nings where each student would be a member. The possibilities seem endless. To Ningfinity and Beyond!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Developing Professionally through Blogs and Blogging

Would Socrates be proud of us as we blog about education and Web 2.0 technology, carrying conversations across the blogosphere . . . asking, thinking, contemplating, sharing, rethinking, asking more questions, and finally posting? I like to think he's smiling down on my little blog right now. I also like to think the day will come when the powers that be (aka principals, directors, school board officials) will smile upon blogging as a professional development activity worth it's weight in gold.

From my limited teaching experience, I have learned that there is a prejudice against blogging (or perhaps a fear of it) that does not embrace it as a professional development tool. We see it used at the university level, and witness many professors turning to blogs to reach their audience, but a trickle-down effect is less evident at the school level. Have you ever heard of a "blog prep?" Has a substitute teacher ever covered your class while you blogged? Certainly I've never experienced that type of support, and I have a few ideas about why that is, and what we should do about it. I think a shift is definitely happening, but I believe schools have a long way to go before promoting blogs and blogging as a viable means of professional development.

Why Participating in the Blogosphere Promotes Professional Development
Whether we are simply reading blogs written by enthusiastic educators, commenting on said blogs, or blogging ourselves, we are entering into the discourse of reflection and practice. We build a community with other educators that is priceless in the grand scheme of things. Collegial conversations begin to bloom and a marvelous garden prospers. The process is organic, and the compost is rich!

In my own experience as a blogger this term, I have come to truly appreciate the process as professional development. The experience was two-fold. First, I had to use the Web 2.0 tools (I blogged, podcasted, used Voicethreads, RSS Feeds, and created Nings and Social Bookmarks, etc), then I had to reflect on the process and how these tools could be used in schools. If I used the tools in isolation, without the reflection and feedback from readers that the blog allowed, then my progress would have been limited. Through blogging I feel better prepared to integrate the tools into my teaching.

From an economic standpoint, blog-reading and blog-creating should be promoted by school officials - we can converse (usually for free) with world-class educators around the globe. We have an opportunity to access relevant, meaningful, usable information any time of the day. This is so unlike previous professional development experiences which often have high costs for travel, accomodation, meals, etc.

Why the Reticence?

I believe there is a scholarly bias at play here - blogs are simply not considered professional enough in some peoples minds - after all, any amateur can blog! Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur "claims that the professional knowledge of experts is being eroded by self-publishing amateurs and citizen journalists. And he scoffs at bloggers!" (as read on Guy Merchant's blog at: Jinkies! What's a blogger to do?

The other problem is that some people may confuse blogging with social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Certainly some blogs are for fun and folly, but the growing list of educational blogs should be enough to convince sceptics that Blogs are useful! (Incidentally, the school district I worked in last year had such strong restrictions that we could not access blogs at all).

While blogs and blogging are economical - it is difficult to track their use and value. How does administration account for professional development? That said, I've sat through many a conference where teachers did anything but listen to the guest speaker. At one conference, people walked out and went shopping!

What we Should do About it!

We need to convince leaders in our educational community about the value of blogs and blogging for professional development purposes. So, how do we alter old-school perceptions about professional development and blogging? We need to invite them to participate in the conversation, that way they can see for themselves the value blogs have for PD in our schools.

We need to continue blogging intelligently on a professional level, and continue to support educational bloggers by engaging in their discussions on their blogs. We need to share the joy and send the links! Recommend blogs of note on our school web-sites, school newsletters, or e-mail teachers/administration directly with links to blogs we believe will be of interest to them (there is power in personalizing the process). With certain teachers who are resistant to change, I would share blogs on a need-to-know basis; non-bloggers/blog readers can get overwhelmed by too much information (especially if they think they don't have time to blog).

If we continue to blog for the purposes of our own professional development the shift will continue to happen. If we blog, they will come. We can also highlight the blogs we intend to follow, and the blogs we intend to publish in our Professional Developmeant Year Plan. It may not get credit, but if we treat blogs and blogging seriously, others may follow. We can lead by example and invitation, and by doing so, one day you might just get a "blog prep". Wouldn't that be nice?

Educational Blogs I would Recommend

Blogs about Books

Sunday, November 16, 2008

RSS - Take Out or Delivery?

I like an analogy to get me started - that's just the way my mind works. So when I was researching for this weeks blog on RSS (Real Simple Sindication), I came up with an analogy to explain RSS to myself. Gaining information these days is like ordering a pizza - will that be pick it up, or delivery? Random browsing of your favourite webspaces is like getting in your car and driving across town to pick up your pizza. Using an RSS Feed is like having the delivery person come to your door with your meal (information) hot and ready - all you have to do is open the box (or in this case, click on the text) and your meal is served. The orange RSS button is the speed dial to your favourite restaurant. It's so simple (Real Simple, actually), a monkey could do it. So, why aren't more people using it? After all, Will Richardson called RSS "the new killer App for educators" and he urged teachers to start using it "this minute."

I googled "I don't use RSS" (I know I'm not being very academic here, but I just wanted a quick inkling) and I came up with 2400 hits. Now, isn't that interesting? A quick browse came up with the following reasons:

  • Don't know what it is, or how to use it.
  • Don't want to use another web-tool, or add more stuff to their computer.
  • Don't like the experience, or feel a need.
  • Don't want to change, using their bookmarks is working for them.

    On closer examination, I found a thoughtful response to the question: Stephen Brooks wrote a Blog entry entitled Why I Don't Use RSS. Brooks explains, "I might not WANT to know that there’s a new post at YesButNoButYes (like there is every couple of hours) right when it happens - I want to drift by and soak up a couple of days’ worth when I feel like it. And second, there’s a bit of a treasure-hunter style thrill when I check blogs that are updated less frequently . . . and find a new post - it would have been less “exciting” to have it pop up in my Google Reader."

    Hmm, a treasure-hunter. I'm thinking this blogger is the 'pick-up' sort of person. He appreciates the journey as much as getting to the destination. As a teacher-librarian, I have to respect that, and I appreciate seeing a different point of view. Not everyone needs or wants their information 'hot and ready'. Not all of my colleagues will be familiar with RSS Feeds/Readers, and not all of them will care to use them. Same with my students. I can't assume RSS will be important to all of them. That being said, I think it is our job to inform people about the benefits of RSS so they can decide for themselves.

    Informing Teachers ('the Oprah way')

    How to explain RSS the Oprah way by Stephanie Quilao (found at describes what RSS is, how to get it, and why you need it. Quilao has used excellent graphics and describes RSS in a warm-fuzzy, make-your-life-better sort of way. Her entry would appeal to many of the women I taught with last year (mostly fans of Oprah, not technology).

    RSS Feeds for Elementary Students (found at lists several sites appropriate for Feeds for younger students. My favourites from this list include:
  • CBBC Newsround -Frontpage
  • Science Buzz--science
  • Why Files--science
  • Cybils --literature/books
  • Discovery Channel Headlines--science news
  • Nova Science Now --science news
  • Wands and Worlds--fantasy book reviews

  • This blogger's advice is to be selective, "you can have too many feeds, [and] don't want adult news feeds coming in from CNN, ABC, CBS, etc..." This is a good reminder to pass on to our staff. RSS Feeds should help students control the flow of information, not create an overwhelming flood of it. After all, we don't want to order too many pizzas, just a healthy amount.

    RSS: Bringing What's New to You, by Traci Gardner (found at provides excellent examples of how teachers can use RSS with students. This is one of the most professional pages for teachers that I discovered - use this with teachers who are more comfortable with technology (it goes beyond an Oprah-like explanation). Gardner's suggestion for having students subscribe to a homework blog is one that might just meet with parent-approval!

    My Personal Experience with RSS

    When David Loertscher was presenting in Winnipeg last year, he wanted to make sure that we left the workshop with a practical skill; something that we could take back and use in our daily lives. He had us create i-google pages, a blog for our school library, and taught us how to subscribe to the blog using the RSS Feed. I found the experience interesting. It was easy to set everything up, but less easy to use it. At that time, I didn't read enough blogs to make use of the Feed, so I didn't have an authentic purpose for using RSS. Since taking this course, however, I tried again. I revisited my i-google page, but found it was one extra site to log into, and I discovered it was more time-consuming than time-saving. What did work for me was using the Bloglines right on my blog. I was checking my blog daily anyway, so I didn't feel a need to go elsewhere for the same information. I must say, I do love the ease of following everyone's blogs from my page. I suppose you could say my choice of RSS Reader is purely economical.

      Final Thoughts

      If we introduce RSS to our staff and students, we are providing them with a tool that will help them to have their information delivered to their door. I know of several excited little information-seekers that I taught last year who would love this Web tool. They would be over the moon to see information arriving on their doorstep, and would quickly set about subscribing to every site available. They would likely have a competition to see who could get the most Feeds. For students/staff on the other side of the spectrum, who are reluctant to use RSS, I would suggest that you challenge them to a two-week RSS trial - if they connect to sites that are truly meaningful to them, then they will see the benefits of RSS right away. Perhaps we could get the excited students on-board and have them create commercials highlighting the benefits of using this amazing little technology. Perhaps they could lead the 'RSS Two Week Challenge' - go team!

      Saturday, November 8, 2008

      Social Networking Sites


      I joined Facebook last year after watching a little blurb on the news about it. The report talked about how people were "addicted" to Facebook, and how they spent hours on it. I had not heard of it before that, but thought I should check it out. What I've discovered is that spending a little time browsing through friend lists is like a walk down my old highschool hallway. I can't believe how many people I've lost touch with, but there they are going on living and representing a portion of their life on-line for all their friends to see. I wouldn't say I'm addicted to Facebook, I don't feel a need to check in daily, or weekly even. But on the occasions when I do go on, I find it almost meditative to check what my friends and family are doing by glancing through their status updates. It is a rather strange phenonmenon, isn't it? I feel like I'm peeking in windows, but with the bizarre notion that I've been invited to do so. I wonder what the effect of this social window peeking is doing for the digital natives out there? Do they feel less inhibited? Do they have the same sense of personal virtual space as we digital immigrants do?

      Facebook Can of Worms - Student "Friends"

      Shortly after I joined Facebook I had a friend request from one of my old kindergarten students. I was glad to hear from her, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I needed to proceed with caution. I wrote back saying "Great to hear from you, hope you're well. Say hello to your parents for me." I accepted the friend request, not realizing what was involved. I didn't know that every comment/photo, etc they post comes on my page, and mine on theirs. Had I known more about how Facebook works, I likely would have done differently. Since then, two other ex-kindergarteners contacted me. I sent out the same message. For me, it was an awkward situation, I didn't want to say "no" to their friend request, and yet I didn't want to share the Facebook space with them. I'm not worried about them seeing what I am doing on-line (I'm really not that exciting), but I was uncomfortable with having access to their world. I was hoping to remember them as sweet little kindergarteners and not young teens trying to represent themselves as party girls, older than their years (their profile pictures alone show this). The teacher/parent in me is nervous for them (are they aware of the dangers?). I also wonder if I have a moral/legal responsibility if I see something like cyber-bullying going on? The whole situation is a Facebook can of worms, and I'm not sure what to do. I've thought about de-friending them, but that just seems cruel (I was their first teacher!). Perhaps they'll see that I'm a rather boring friend, and they'll de-friend me first. One can only hope. My advice for teachers in this situation, don't go down that road unless you are braver than me.

      A Social Network I'm not Afraid of - Nings

      I'm quite excited about the possibilities of Nings, both in my professional life, and my family life. I decided to begin a Ning that was meaningful to me, so I created a sister site to my Flickr Group Down Syndrome in the Family. I named the Ning Down Syndrome Around the World, and posted an invite to the current members of the Flickr group. You can see it at In my invitation I explained that a Ning is a social networking site where we can each create a page that is unique to our families; post photos, videos, blogs, have discussions, etc. I also made the site public, but said that we can make it private if we want. I'm not sure how it will go, to be honest; such a site has the potential to either flop, or take off. It is rather exciting, though, to watch and see what happens. Many of the Flickr members already partake in discussions on our site, and have their own personal blogs, so I'm not sure that a Ning will fill a need for them, but like I said, I had to try it!

      Nings to Schools

      Esther Rosenfield, in an article available through Proquest called Expanding Your Professional Network with Nings, believes that "Ning has great potential value as an educational tool, especially for professional development and building professional connections". Many of us studying Web 2.0 have already witnessed this on Nings like TeacherLibrarianNing (, and Classroom 2.0 (( I think they are wonderful platforms for professional development, but I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the vastness of it. For myself, I would be tempted to create a Ning closer to home - with teachers from my school division, for instance. While the global perspective on educational topics is appealing, I would also be interested in seeing the amazing teaching strategies being used in my own neighbourhood.

      Within my library, I would definitely want to use Nings for book clubs and literature circles, inquiry projects, etc. as well as encourage teachers to set them up for their class. I think that it would be an exciting opportunity for students to showcase their learning in an on-line social network.

      Why Students Should Learn about Social Networking in School

      Tim Discipio, in Adapting Social Networking: TO ADDRESS 21ST-CENTURY SKILLS, writes:
      "As educators, it is our responsibility to take students from what they already know to the next level of critical thinking. In other words, today's students are using these tools to connect, but are they creating enough, collaborating on projects, or inventing new ideas? Students need guidance, and here is where we can best use practiced methodologies of teaching to our advantage. What needs to be incorporated across the curriculum is a social learning network - if we focus only on the "social" and "network," we are missing the mark. A true social learning network incorporates innovative pedagogy through internet-connected communities, digital resources, and a series of Web 2.0 tools that empower students to master the curriculum and to learn issues beyond the classroom." This is inspiring! Why wouldn't we want our students to be critical, creative, and collaborative thinkers? Who wouldn't want our students to feel empowered?

      Ah, therein lies the problem, I think.

      Many people get nervous about "empowered" students. What if they don't use that power for good? Once again, I feel a Spider-Man thought creeping up on me. With great power comes great responsibility, and that is why I think it is imperative that we teach students how to use social network sites appropriately, and we should start at a young age. One approach that I read about in an article called text unto others . . . As You Would Have Them Text Unto You, by Matt Villano (available through Proquest) is to teach students "digital citizenship". His premise is that we need to go beyond teaching students to deal with "on-line hazards", and have them take responsibility in building safe and creative on-line communities, and "inspiring others to do the same." I feel this is going to be essential if we are going to bring social networking into the classroom.

      I'd better go now, I have to check my on-line social spaces; I don't want to neglect anybody.

      Status: Carol is checking her Ning.

      Sunday, November 2, 2008

      VoiceThreads - Stumbling on Inspiration

      Sometimes I stumble upon interesting sites on the Web, and I have to thank my virtual lucky stars for this one - a Ning about VoiceThread for Educators: It looks like a great place to begin collaborating with other teachers about using VoiceThread in the classroom.

      I also found a great little VoiceThread about a First Grade trip to the beach: What a wonderful way to reflect on a fieldtrip!

      I was very impressed by the Colour Poems on this VoiceThread: The photographs are lovely, and the children's voices are just delightful. I would show this to students as a starting point to write our own colour poems, or as an example of what can be done with VoiceThread.

      In closing, I thought I was in love with wikis for classroom collaboration, but I'm finding VoiceThread incredibly inspiring. It is definitely my new favourite Web 2.0 tool (no offence, wiki, I still really, really like you!)

      First VoiceThread - My Mom Gave Me a Nickel

      This was my first attempt with VoiceThread - I was excited to use it to pin down the song that Liam's preschool teacher taught him 2 years ago, and thrilled to do it using a true mix of multimedia! First, the boys and I created a visual representation using good old paper, crayons and glue. Liam added his own take on the main character (he turned him into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle). Kieran and I drew the store and Kieran added the signage on the store. Next, I took photographs of the picture, uploaded them to my laptop, then we got into the fun stuff of creating the show. We decided to do 3 slides - the first containing the song, the 2nd and 3rd were comments on the pictures. Downloading the photos was not difficult, and my laptop has a built-in microphone, so it made the recording process rather easy.

      In the end, it was a great little family project to work on. I know it is very rough around the edges, with lots of pauses and ramblings, but I didn't want the boys to re-do it (they were happy with it the way it was). I wonder, if this had been a classroom project would I have encouraged them to have a re-do? I suppose it would depend on the grade level, the child, the project, the intended audience, etc. We could definitely have a lesson on making our VoiceThread's the best they can be. We could listen to a few and see if we thought the pauses and ramblings detracted from the message. It really comes down to a personal choice, I suppose.

      Conversations with My Husband about VoiceThread

      My second attempt at a VoiceThread was meant to be a simple re-telling of our hike to the Goldstream Provincial Park where we went to witness the salmon run. What it turned into was a conversation with my husband about the hike, our life, and about VoiceThreads as a teaching tool.

      In creating this multi-media presentation, I felt like all of the Web 2.0 tools were coming together in one place. We were photo-sharing, texting, podcasting, blogging . . . (did I miss any?). Because VoiceThread offers this incredible diversity, it will be a valuable tool in my classroom or library. But, if we think beyond the Web 2.0 tools, what else is going on? What is at the heart of this experience that makes it so relevant in the classroom? Collaboration, discussion, representation, we are exploring voice, public speaking, writing, the list goes on. I think this experience can be celebrated as a true cross-curricular "glue" that can enhance teaching and learning, making it vitally important in our school libraries.

      Sunday, October 26, 2008

      Wikis - I Think I'm in Love

      I'll admit, I was very skeptical. Forgive me, but I did not think I would enjoy having my words, my work, my thoughts, my creation being tinkered with. What if the heart gets taken out of what I've written? What if my words are completely obliterated? What if someone trashes my space? It takes a tremendous leap of faith for people like me to surrender to the ways of the wiki, but that is what I did, what I had to do, and now I'm a believer. I think I'm in love.

      I began this weeks study on wikis by viewing three sites: pbwiki, wetpaint, and wikispaces (these were recommended on Wikis in Plain English). I chose wikispaces because it seemed the most intuitive. I found the layout easy to follow, and wanted something that would be practical to use with other collaborators.

      The hardest choice I had to make was what I wanted my wiki to be about. After much deliberation and nail-biting, I decided to start a story-sharing site, called StoryButter where people could collaborate on stories for children (

      What I discovered was that I needed a community to make the wiki work. I instantly sent out invitations to members of my writing group, members of EDES 501 class, and a few others. I did not have much time for the experiment, given that the inspiration for the wiki hit me today. I quickly wrote a story called The Ungruff Billy Goats. Then, I crossed my fingers and waited. After some more nail-biting, I realized that perhaps I'd already put too much detail into my story (or maybe it just wasn't that good!). I started another story, Funny Pumpkin, this time leaving it unfinished and with a bare minimum of details. When I checked the "recent changes" on my blog around supper time, I was thrilled to see that someone had taken the bait on the second story. The author/collaborator added some great details, finished the story (save for a few jokes), and made me laugh. How thrilling to have someone collaborate on a story with me! If I can share with students the joy of the wiki, then I'll be one very happy teacher-librarian. I finally get what

      How I would use Wikis in the Classroom
      • That's a Good Question! A group of students who love trivia could host the wiki inviting questions from fellow students.
      • Story starters: Students could post story starters for their literacy buddies to work on.
      • Wee Poets: Students collaborate to make their poems the best they can be.
      • Web 2.0 Ideas in our School: Why not a spot where students can collaborate about how to use Web 2.0 tools in the school?
      • Team Literacy Challenge: A place to routinely challenge groups of students to collaborate on literacy activities such as rewriting the ending of a story.

      What to tell the Nay Sayers

      Will Richardson makes a very good point when he says that people can argue against wikis because they are not professionally edited, but that "in the era of the Read/Write Web, we are all editors, and we must all become skilled at doing that work (66)." We also need to have faith in our students to participate in the collaborative process in a constructive manner; to take on their role as editors seriously.

      We can live in fear that our work will be vandalized, or we can deal with it when and if it happens. Again, it's a leap of faith, but one that seems worth it. As Richardson says: "The collaborative environment that wikis facilitate can teach students much about how to work with others, how to create community, and how to operate in a world where the creation of knowledge and information is more and more becoming a group effort (74)."

      Feel the love, use wikis.

      Sunday, October 19, 2008

      Wandering through Virtual School Libraries

      When I imagined Virtual School Libraries, I instantly thought of something out of a Magic School Bus computer game. I envisioned a virtual tour of a libraries physical space. There, in front of you, would be a cartoonish image of the check-out desk, the computers, the story corner, the bookshelves, and of course the book trucks. If you clicked on the book truck, it could tell you what books your friends had just returned to the library. If you clicked on a computer, you would be taken to a list of teacher-librarian reviewed websites. While this all seemed fun, I was pretty sure there would be more to it than that. I needed help, or sleep, or both. What I did was spend hours viewing virtual school library sites and then backpedaled to see what a virtual school library site is supposed to look like.

      According to the Winter 2008 edition of BCTLA Bookmark ( "school library websites (virtual school libraries) provide access to licensed databases specifically designed for K-12 students and to curricular learning resources." Access to databases and resources seemed a little vague to me - is it really that simple, or is there more going on here? I did a little more digging, and I'm glad I did, because what I stumbled upon was the LAT Report on Joyce Valenza's Virtual School Libraries and 21st-Century Service ( I immediately recognized the homepage of the Springfield Township High School Virtual Library. The LAT Report highlights Joyce Valenza's views about why we should be creating virtual libraries, and what content should be contained within these virtual spaces. Besides creating a 24/7 virtual space that points our students towards "relevant, quality resources," the virtual library "maximizes student use of time to higher-level tasks" and "provides both independence and intervention." According to Valenzas, learning within the virtual library is promoted through: pathfinders, style sheets, websites, webQuests, guides to research, assignments, open source resources, search tools, blogs, wikis, and threaded discussions, and streaming video."

      In the BCTLA Bookmark, there was a list of virtual school libraries in British Columbia that were considered exemplary. Unfortunately, I had trouble accessing some of them. I did have luck, however with the first one I wandered into - the one that was touted as having a "nationally award-winning subject guide of websites which is popular world-wide." How could I walk away? The Prince of Wales Secondary School Library ( was huge! There were so many links it was almost overwhelming, I had to remind myself that I had just wandered into a high school library, I'm definitely used to an elementary setting . For a secondary school, though, I don't think there was too much content. The site was well organized and easy to navigate through. I particularly liked the Reference Desk (,) and believe a lot of students and parents would find this section useful. Another area of particular interest to me was the Research Help Documents such as Notetaking" ( in the Library Information area. I would feel confident directing teachers, parents, and students to these pages as they are well organized, and professional. No wonder this virtual school library has a global appeal! But, as I started to revisit Valenza's thoughts on what should be contained within the virtual library, I realized that there was a lot missing. I did not come across blogs, wikis, streamed video, etc. There seemed to be very little student input, and I wondered if this would be a drawback in any way. I had to keep searching. . . .

      My next step was to revisit the Springfield Township High School Virtual Library to see if it actually contains everything that Ms Valenza's said it should. According to the elements she listed, I expected it to be more than a "subject guide to websites" (as the Prince of Wales site seemed to be). The Springfield site looked like an elementary school site (somewhat like the Magic School Bus image I initially envisioned), but the content is obviously for high schools. Everything that Valenza's said should be on a virtual school library site, was on it. I found streaming video of book trailers from TeacherTube (see,, and this was embedded in a wiki that promoted the Prerequisite Reading List. The Web 2.0 tools were so well integrated in this virtual library that they blend in. I think this site has great appeal for students, it's fun (cartoonish), interactive, easily navigated, professional, and highly relevant to student's curricular needs. Of the two high school virtual school libraries I investigated, this is the one that I think would capture student's attention the most, leading them to higher-levels of thought and independence.

      Going Elementary (my dear Watson)

      After my high school walkabout, I was eager to see what elementary school libraries looked like. First, I did a search of my son's school library, only to find they don't have a virtual library yet.
      Interestingly, there was another school on Vancouver Island with the same name, so I stumbled upon their virtual library. Eagle View Elementary School ( had a visually appealing virtual library that I think elementary students would be drawn to. There were several photos of students at work in the library. (I don't think photographs on virtual library sites should be underestimated. They help to show just what goes on in the library - something a lot of parents don't know). The photos on this site present the library as a classroom space, not just a holding place for books. I was very impressed by the "social feel", this virtual school library site was not just a list of links with a few graphics. Check out the section on Student Reflections: This space had book recommendations, but I think there are even more possibilities for students to post information about their learning. The site did not appear to be interactive - no presence of blogs, wikis, or podcasts, but still, it was better than nothing, and it did have some very good personal qualities.

      The next virtual library I came across in my travels was the Parkcrest School Media Centre ( While there seemed to be a lot of good information on the site, I found the design difficult to navigate through. The links were in the bubbles on the far left hand side of the screen, and you needed to click a lot to get to where you want to go. I wondered if students were drawn to this virtual library, or if they prefer the physical school library. The staff looks fun, inviting and creative, but I think this site needs some tweaking to become truly effective.

      One noteworthy site was the McLurg Elementary School Virtual Library
      I found the layout of this page easy to navigate. I was interested in the “Wonder What to Read” section, and was pleased to find a Wiki with student suggested “Great Reads”. There are 2 grade groups on this site (4-6) and (6-8). It would be interesting to have a picture book wiki as well, because I think younger students would quickly become engaged with the site if they had a space just for them. I noticed that only one book was recommended in the non-fiction section which was presented as a Dewey list of numbers. I wonder why that is? Perhaps if the subject headings were put along with the Dewey numbers it would get more use (for instance “fairy tales”, or “poetry”, or “biography” – you get the picture, you’re all librarians!) I think getting the students involved in revamping that section would be a great lesson for them to work through – it would be a project with an authentic purpose! The more I poked around this virtual Library, the more impressed I became! It is very apparent that this teacher librarian has been well versed in Web 2.0 technology and has an inviting manner towards her students. Besides a wiki, there is a McLurg Book Blog ( and McLurg Booktalk podcasts ( I think that by posting student work/thoughts/contributions in this way, students are more likely to turn to the Virtual School Library and share it with friends and family members. Student collaboration works wonders in making sites like the McLurg Elementary School Virtual Library a meaningful and relevant place to visit.

      Finishing the Tour

      After wandering through several virtual school libraries, I've come to realize that creating sites that will lead our students to relevant curricular information, engage them in Valenza's vision of higher-level thinking and foster student independence is no easy task. There was a real craftsmanship at work behind the sites I visited, and it was extremely exciting to consider the possibilities that virtual school libraries hold for our students.

      In closing, I felt a little guilty about critiquing virtual school libraries. Why? Because I felt that many of the sites I wandered through were 'works in progress'. We all know that a teacher-librarian's job is never done (remember the zen of the book drop)! Despite that some virtual libraries seemed a little rougher around the edges than others, I can't help but feel great hope that these virtual spaces will evolve and grow into something lovely in the same way that we move out shelves around, or buy a new area rug, or create engaging book displays, and change our bulletin boards in our physical library spaces to make them more functional for our students and ourselves.

      Monday, October 13, 2008

      Podcasting live from the kitchen table...

      Creating this podcast was not so bad after all! The hardest part was deciding on content. Originally, we were going to do a Thanksgiving presentation about our weekend, but the boys were getting really silly together when we tried to do that. I decided to separate them for this project, and interviewed Kieran about reading chapter books. I always like to hear what children have to say about reading, and hope that you do to!

      Podcasting in the Classroom

      In the beginning I was wondering how podcasting differs from traditional audiotapes. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to record on a casette tape? (I can imagine teachers I've worked with in the past agreeing with me). But, after reading about podcasts this week, I've come to believe that it's worth the extra effort to learn how to create a podcast. Why? Well, to have the voices "out there" of course! There is a certain level of excitement that comes from the global aspect of podcasting, which just isn't there if you're using a tape recorder. The possibility of connecting with other students or classrooms around the world is indeed very powerful. Having students create their own podcasts is a great way to have them practice multi-literacies with an authentic audience in mind.

      Podcasting Possibilities

      • Eric Langhorst, an 8th grade teacher, found "studycasts" were highly useful for his students. He would record a 20 minute review session and post it on itunes. He found that students and parents often listened to them together, or the students would listen to them on the bus or when exercising. (
      • Students can keep a log of the podcasts they listen too, in the same way that we have them keep a reading log. There is an example at: Students can then write a review of a podcast of their choice. By examining a number of different podcasts, students could create their own guidelines of what makes a good podcast.
      • Reading Buddies can read or create podcasts of their favourite stories to be listened to by their buddy. Or, buddies can create an original podcast together (they could interview one another, compose original poetry/jokes/stories then share them via podcasts with the greater community.)
      • For younger children, teachers/librarians could create "bedtime stories" for their students to listen to at home--a few i-pod shuffles, or similar mp3 players could be sent home on a rotating basis. Add a stuffy and a journal to draw and write in, and students will have a blast!
      • Older students can create podcast discussions of hot topics such as censorship and freedom to read or, filters on school computers.

      In Closing: Final Words from the Kitchen Table...

      Podcasts are definitely a Web 2.0 tool that I would make frequent use of in the school library. I believe the students would be very excited about using this technology to express themselves. In the words of a student quoted by Robert Rozema in his article, The Book Report, Version 2.0: Podcasting on Young Adult Novels:

      "A podcast would be so much more interesting compared to a boring book report . . . students would most likely enjoy this sort of assignment since it involves creativity and technology. I also think podcasting could reach out to a lot of students who aren't necessarily the good students because it's giving them so many choices. They get to choose what they say about the book, what music to use, the pacing, the tone . . . . The podcast would be my number one alternative to the book report."

      Amen to that!

      Saturday, October 11, 2008

      Spider Turkey --this is not part of our assignment!

      The Spider-Turkey that we made...
      I just wanted to share this weeks "family homework" assignment with you. We had to decorate a turkey together to display in my son's gym for their Thanksgiving assembly. No Web 2.0 tools were used in the production of this turkey, though there are endless possibilites! We could create a group photo pool for our school families to post their turkeys. Perhaps students could write about the process of completing family homework on a blog. Maybe a podcast could be created interviewing the teacher who came up with this idea along with families who participated in this project.
      Or, maybe paper, crayons, scissors and glue is enough for this project. . . ?
      At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

      Saturday, October 4, 2008

      "Everyone Must Know"--Social Bookmarking Services

      Back when I was at the University of Saskatchewan (for my B.Ed), I took my friend's 5 year-old son to see the dinosaurs in the Biology/Geology building. I showed him how even the rocks on the walls had fossils in them. He got very serene for a moment, then whispered "Everyone must know...." He proceeded to approach passing strangers saying, "did you know that there are fossils everywhere? You should really know that." He just had to share the joy of this new and amazing discovery, and that is how I am feeling tonight after exploring the social bookmarking services of Diigo and Delicious. I am holding myself back from approaching total strangers on the street to tell them about the possibilities of social bookmarking.

      A Tale of Two Social Bookmarking Services

      Being new to social bookmarking services, I really have no instant preference between the two sites I have been working with . Both Diigo and Delicious are relatively easy to navigate through, and offer an easy way to take your bookmarks with you wherever you go (as long as you are wired). Below, I will list a few of my observations about each site.

      Glimpsing Diigo

      • When going through the Diigo Dashboard, you can easily preview your bookmarks without leaving the site. This would be a useful feature if you are browsing student's bookmarks for content/appropriateness; it is a time-saving feature.
      • On the toolbar (which you can download to your browser for free) you have the option of highlighting information on the website that you are bookmarking. You can also add comments by way of "floating sticky notes"--this seems like an organizational benefit--you can post reminders about why that website was important.
      • Tagging itself is not as apparent--there is no pop-up screen which asks for tags as there is on Delicious.
      • There is a feature that allows you "play webslides"--this presents your webpages in a slideshow. I think students would enjoy this feature to give them a visual taste of the websites bookmarked.
      • Getting social on this site seems easy--there is a section on the dashboard that invites you to "Meet people" the site will recommend other users "with similar interests to you". (I tried it, but did not have luck as I did not have enough bookmarks/tags listed yet).

      Glimpsing Delicious

      • I have not found a preview or a slideshow of bookmarks--I liked this on the Diigo site and think students would too (if there is this ability on Delicious, please let me know!)
      • Tagging is very easy as a screen pops up as soon as you click on the tag icon. Tags are suggested in this screen which makes it easier to decide upon appropriate language.
      • There are more users, I don't have to search for a social community--it's already starting as many classmates have chosen Delicious.
      • On the browser you can "send to OneNote" which I have found useful. In OneNote students can see their webpage and make notes that they do not want to share on the Delicious Network.
      Ponderings about Social Bookmarks and Student Learning

      Where I think these services would be most beneficial is in collaborative projects. I think many students would take ownership over their own learning if they were tagging sites that they found useful and sharing them with their classroom community. The social aspect of sharing their bookmarks also puts a certain amount of peer pressure to find good sites, perhaps making students be more critical of the sites they are using. It would be an interesting study to see if social bookmarking sites like Diigo, Delicious, Furl, etc. are changing the relationship students have with their resources. Do they read more critically? Do they feel more organized? Do they feel more pressure or less (because they have access to each others bookmarks). These are just a few of my ponderings; I'll be looking for answers in my classroom experiences to come.

      Friday, October 3, 2008

      Trying out social bookmarking and I`m shy!!

      I played around with Delicious a little more and liked the ease of tagging. I also noticed on the little toolbar that you can send the page right to Onenote, which I might find useful. (I use OneNote when I am doing on-line research for the class, or if I am trying to find clipart.)

      Initially I was very self-conscious about what sites I bookmarked--people can see them, right? It's funny that I have no problem having my family photos on Flickr for the world to see, but suddenly I'm thinking twice about what Internet sites I'm choosing to display. Who knew that what we browse on the Net is so personal? It's not like I go to inappropriate sites or anything, but if we stop to think about it, what we do at the computer generally is very personal; it's usually just me and the computer against the world. Aidan is often crawling around my feet somewhere, but he's not reading over my shoulder snickering because I'm watching a re-run of X-Weighted on Slice! Come to think of it, my husband and I use the computer much differently than my students or my kids. Kids will often gather around the screen and give directions to one another, or share the information. They are much more social! My husband and I are never comfortable when someone is reading over our shoulder.

      Thursday, October 2, 2008

      Social Bookmarking--Day One! Phew!

      My 3 lads are in bed, so I'm exploring the Web! I have just spent the past hour figuring out which social bookmarks to sign up for. My first choice was It was easy to do, fast, straight forward in its initial stages. I kept waiting, though, to see something about the teacher upgrade I read about last week for my discussion topic, but nothing "came at me". I suppose I need to dig a little for that, and I hope it doesn't mean that I have to set another account up. That is the thing I am discovering about Web 2.0 -- I'm spending a lot of time adding "stuff", I'm gaining many user accounts that I didn't even dream of having last month!

      The second social bookmarking service I signed up for was I did this mostly because it is supposedly "the most popular" and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The initial start-up seemed easy and straight forward, but it wasn't. It would not accept the password I tried to use, though it was accepted at Diigo. Then, when I had to put in the secret code (you know, the funny-letters-strung-so-close-together-I-thought-I-was-hallucinating code that is supposed to help fight the war on spam, or some such thing) and apparently I couldn't read them properly because it took me 10 times (I'm not kidding!!!) to get it right. I'm not complaining, the hard work and effort might have been good for me. I'm just wondering if that happens to others on a regular basis. Hopefully my stubborn and persistent nature will lead me to a happily organized future of brilliance and deep insight.

      Saturday, September 27, 2008

      Creating a Personal Montage

      Exploring Web 2.0 can lead you down roads you didn't expect. I was on YouTube, just looking at a few montages created by people I got to know through my Flickr group, and I saw the little button on the One True Media sign that said "Create Your Own", and so I just had to try it (I am an impulsive Teacher Librarian after all!). An hour later, and I'm still playing with it, adding photos of the boys and choosing background music. I liked the idea of adding text, but it is a premium feature and costs about $39 a year. I'm not that ready to commit, so I made the basic montage. I'm going to try to add it here, but please keep in mind that I didn't have much luck with embedding my Flickr slideshow. I'm crossing my virtual fingers here!

      View this montage created at One True Media

      I think this site would be very useful in the classroom. We could create montages of fieldtrips, and if the text did not cost money to add, or if I invested, the students could use it to recount the events of our trip. Hopefully focusing on what was learned, and not just the social side of an outing, though that may have a place in building a classroom community that we can share beyond the walls of said classroom. Hmm, that is more photo food for thought.

      I imagine this site could be used across the grades as well--I would have easily used it when I taught Kindergarten to record activities such as show and share, using building blocks, baking, book making, finger-painting, puzzle making, just about anything. In middle years I would have used it to record volunteer endeavours such as working for the food bank, cleaning a green space, visiting a nursing home.

      What I think would be really interesting, would be to ask the students how it would be best used in the classroom. Especially for those of us who have worked or are working in school divisions that restrict access to such sites. Having students debate the educational virtues of such sites and writing persuasive letters to the administration and school board might be a very useful activity indeed!

      You Tub[ing] in the Family and then at School

      It's funny with new technologies--they become such a part of our lives that we forget just how new they really are. I was amazed to read on Wickipedia that YouTube was created in 2005. Not that long ago--and yet it has become a part of our daily life in much the way that the radio plays in the car when we run our errands, or the TV goes on to relax before bed.

      Personal Context

      I was first introduced to You Tube last year by my husband who loves to look up clips of 'classic' old TV programs like Get Smart, You Bet Your Life, Ed Sullivan and so forth. Its a pop culture treasure chest. Even tonight before the boys went to bed, they and their dad spent some quality time together looking up performances by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Elvis. Together they chat about the people/performers and often connect them to a timeline that involves other family members. For example they'll get a kick out of a TV Batman clip from when their Uncle was their age. They also are making connections to other media, including books, that they come across in the clips. They were especially impressed that the actor who played Grandpa Max in the recent film version of one of their favourite cartoon stories - Ben 10 - played the Six Million Dollar Man when he was much younger. My middle son (5 years old) has bookmarked a couple of videos about Star Wars Transformers, where basically the person putting on the video holds the transformer up and talks about its components. It's like a new-age show-and-tell, and my son is completely hooked. My husband and I are very aware of the inappropriate content that is too easily stumbled upon. Even though our computer is in a space of high traffic in our household - some clips slip through. I'm thinking particularly of a scene from Episode Three of Star Wars where there is a particularly gory scene. We've told both boys that they need to be older to watch it on DVD - but they have caught bit sof it as they surf through Star Wars toy and information sites.

      Oh, the Places You Can Go with TeacherTube!!

      I was excited to see this simple TeacherTube video called Our Favorite Robert Munsch Books at It is not complicated but very effective: the student's drawings of their favorite books are shown then they explain why that book was their favourite.

      Another wonderful example of what students and teachers can view or create on TeacherTube is more complex but replicates the type of quality we can be striving for. It is rather long, but try watching just for a few moments, it's worth it! The Cat and the Hat Meets the Grinch:

      Safety Concerning Me

      Before watching An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, by Michael Wesch, I felt YouTube had enormous potential in the classroom. That potential included access to video clips that could be used to enhance teaching and learning. Safety here did not concern me because I would ensure that students did not have "free range" over the site. I imagine that I would be showing them a clip that was previewed for appropriateness.

      An exciting aspect of YouTube was the potential to create meaningful videos that could be viewed by other students around the world. But the more I watched Michael Wersch take us through the wonderful world of YouTube, the more wary I became. There are so many "what ifs" with YouTube. What if our innocent video was mashed up and remade and became subject to what Michael Wesch called "context collapse?" What if our little video took off and gained a life of its own that made us uncomfortable? What if an on-line predator was able to identify a student despite our deligent efforts to not use geographically identifying content? And perhaps a common fear for teachers: What if the technology doesn't work when I need it to?

      I think the answer for me, and for many of my colleagues, is to take baby steps. Get comfortable with the technology ourselves before bringing it into the classroom. But while we are all about "baby steps" in education, our students, today's generation, is all about leaping in and having a go. They don't read the manual, they learn by trying. The other thing is that the teacher doesn't have to be the authority in the classroom (perhaps something which makes a lot of us uncomfortable); Web 2.0 is all about the social aspect of learning. More than one person takes on the responsibility for understanding and for representation of that understanding. Web 2.0 platforms like YouTube and TeacherTube provide maybe less than ideal platforms, but still real platforms for students and teachers to construct knowledge together and share it with the broad and diverse audience that is the Web.

      Last Rant About Filters

      As I examined YouTube and TeacherTube I had a little thought at the back of my mind, "none of this really matters because I likely won't be able to access it in the elementary school due to restrictions, just like last year..." Then I came across Will Richardson's blog at: in which my frustration of filters was presented, and his wisdom and eloquence gave me hope. He says:

      "I truly believe that filters make our kids less safe. They step off the bus into unfiltered worlds with no context for making good decisions about the stuff coming at them. It’s a huge problem. But on some levels, the bigger problem is what we are doing to our teachers. It insults the profession to not at the very least provide desktop overrides for teachers when they bump up against a filtered site. Have a policy in place to deal with incidents where teachers make poor choices if that’s what the concern is. Seriously, am I missing something? Why is that so hard to implement? The only way we’re going to get students, or teachers, to master the Web is to let them use it."

      I am hopeful to see a future where more administrators and school boards take such words to heart. I can't help but feel that YouTube and TeacherTube are only the beginning...

      Wednesday, September 17, 2008

      Arriving or Departing--More thoughts on Photo Sharing Sites

      The educational possibilities brought to us by photo-sharing sites seems immense and perhaps a little daunting. In an attempt to organize my own thoughts on the subject, I have listed and commented on a few of ideas that I hope are meaningful to someone out there in the blogosphere.
      Photo Sharing Sites--Random Thoughts
      1. A simple introduction might be to have groups of students working on the same photo, then let them experiment with the editing tools to see how they would alter the photo to suit their personal tastes and style.
      2. Use photo sharing sites to capture "moments of inquiry", or "love of reading", or whatever else is important to your school. The school I worked at last year incorporated the Aboriginal Seven Teachings. Each month we focused on a different concept such as wisdom, honesty, respect, humility, etc. I created a lift-the-flap bulletin board to represent each of those concepts with titles such as "glimpsing wisdom", or "a representation of courage" (for this one I had a photo of the Wright brother's first flight), or even just "a photo to make you smile" (a picture of a smiley baby). I attempted to replicate the on-line experience of being able to comment on the photos, so I built in the space to leave comments and hung pencils with ribbon from the board. Students of all ages seemed interested and would lift the flaps to see the photos, but it was the sixth graders who really got into leaving comments (our school was K-9).

      3. I used photos I borrowed from Flickr as a slideshow backdrop at our Poetry Cafe last year. I searched photos related to poetry readings, and e-mailed the photographers to ask permission to use their photos at the event. Everyone granted permission (they seemed especially pleased to be used educationally). But not everyone wanted their names attached, so we need to remind our students not to assume they do.
      4. Teachers can't control the images that other users post on the photo sharing sites. I don't believe there is a way to fully protect students from coming across objectionable images, but I also don't think that is a valid reason why we should avoid such sites in the classroom. David Jakes (author of "Using Flickr in the Classroom" suggests that "[i]n all cases, caution should be used when searching specific topics and a discussion with students about what should take place when inappropriate imagery is located should be done prior to use." One way of exercising such caution would be to limit internet users to small groups and have an adult supervisor close at hand to assist students working on sites such as Flickr. The presence of an adult could help to control students accessing inappropriate images (whether intentional or not); and if they do unintentionally trip over what we perceive to be objectionable content, then we can discuss appropriate steps to avoid such mishaps in the future.
      5. Flickr could be very interesting for schools with a high immigrant and ESL population. Students could revisit their country of origin through photographs and share the images with classmates.
      6. Flickr can take "Flat Stanley" to a whole new level. See Flat Stanley's Photostream at
      7. Not surprisingly, there is a Flickr site for teachers wanting to use Flickr in the classroom. Go to "FlickrEDU: Using Flickr Images in the Classroom" at This page has many wonderful examples educational Flickr sites.
      8. Amy Standon, author of "My Friend Flickr-A Great Photo Opportunity" (, provides reassurance for teachers wanting to use the resource without the risks. She says that one way to do this is to use the group photo pools, because you have more control over who participates in the site (members in groups can be by invitation only).

      Experimenting with Picasa

      Posted by PicasaI am trying out Picasa, since I'm already familiar with Flickr. I'm not nervous, exactly, but I am out of my element. It is rather easy to get started, and sending a photo right to my blog from Picasa was very easy (I liked that). What I think would be a really cool and authentic activity would be to have students do a comparative study of the photo sharing sites (Flickr, Picasa, and Photobucket). I'm sure that critical comparisons have been done already (I'll look that up in just a moment), but it would be an interesting project to do with a class. The students could create their own rating scales, and test the sites according to the criteria they have set. They could journal their discoveries in a blog, and invite other photographers to comment on their findings. Perhaps groups could present their findings as if they are trying to convince their school which photo sharing site they should support.

      Monday, September 15, 2008

      Why I Flickr. . . a love affair of sorts.

      I've been Flickr-ing for almost 2 years now, and I'm completely addicted to it. I first discovered Flickr after my son Aidan was born, and we discovered that he had Down syndrome and three holes in his heart. I was in a bit of shock, and found it very therapeutic to browse through images of happy, lovely children with Down syndrome who looked like they were living wonderful lives. There was something almost meditative about going through the photographs at the end of the day when my boys were in bed. I found three group sites for people with Down syndrome, and joined them. I started posting photographs of Aidan, and felt really incredible when people started leaving comments (mostly about how cute he is!). I didn't realize back then that what I was doing was building up a community of people I could turn to when I needed advice, support or encouragement.

      Before I Flickr-ed though, I CarePage-d. We started a CarePage for Aidan through the Stollery Hospital site and I posted comments and photographs of Aidan and his brothers. Friends and family were able to post prayers and hellos to us, and in turn we were able to keep everyone up-to-date on Aidan's health. It became really important to me to be able to post from the hospital when Aidan had his heart surgery, and we could see that friends and family from all over Canada were thinking of him. The CarePage had a way of monitoring who had logged onto our page, and how many times and when. So, even if they did not leave a message, we knew they were thinking of Aidan. It did our hearts good. So good in fact that when Aidan was finished with his surgery and was considered "all fixed up", I felt I needed to continue posting, but no longer felt the CarePage was the venue. That was when I turned to Flickr.

      One thing that I've discovered in comparing the two was that the CarePage was great, but not nearly as global as Flickr. The people who viewed the CarePage were invited to do so--the site was not public. In going public with my photos on Flickr I've made connections with families from around the world. I got so inspired I started my own Group site called "Down Syndrome in the Family". It's a spot to share photos of our children, highlighting the whole family and the enormous love that a child with Down syndrome brings to us. My little group now has 45 members. We comment on one anothers pictures, how much the kids are growing and cheer them on when they reach certain milestones.

      Where I think Flickr offers the most potential is in the Discussion section of the Group sites. Flickr also has some fun tools where students could make posters, badges, hockey cards, magazine covers, etc. One idea I had was to create a school buzz around reading. Like Canada Reads, only it would be your school name (Victoria School Reads). The discussion site could have book reviews or students commenting about certain genres they like. Students could interview other students and staff and make magazine covers highlighting their information. There are so many possiblities, it is mind boggling (but in a good way).

      I'm going to stop there for now, but have plans for another post about Flickr. If you have time to explore our Flickr photo pool--check us out at:

      Our family is the 3 Little Billy Goats.

      About the blogginess of it all

      I'm very excited to have a blog dedicated to one area of my life--the Teacher-Librarian side. This blog is required for the EDES 501 class on Web 2.0 in schools and libraries. There is nothing I love more than learning hands on skills while I'm learning the theory behind it all--so I'm looking forward to this class.

      I chose the Blogger publishing tool because it seemed like the most intuitive site, and the one that I am most familiar with. While I would love to explore other options, I have 3 small children who are still very demanding, and time to surf and experiment is cut to a minimum. Another reason I chose this blog publisher is because it is the one I've seen used most often, and I suppose I am susceptible to familiarity. If I think of myself as an emergent learner in Web 2.0, then blogger is what has been modeled most for me, and therefore what I can easily slip into.

      Using the blog as a vehicle for my own learning makes me all the more aware how powerful blogs can be in the classroom. The potential is enormous! I loved Will Richardson's example of his class using the blog to create a study guide for A Recipe for Bees. The writing involved had purpose, and an authentic audience--reminding me that as educators it is not enough to blog for blogging sake. It's what you put into the blog and the assignment that makes it meaningful to our students and ourselves.

      In case anyone is reading this blog from outside of our EDES 501 class, I would highly recommend our class text, "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" by Will Richardson. It is an engaging text, full of insight for using Web 2.0 tools in our schools.