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.