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.