Time to Stop and Reflect

Harbor way by (davide), on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  (davide) 

For EC&I 831, my challenge was to create a digital project which would allow me to understand the potential uses of social media and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom while at the same time, be a useful product that could serve my school. As I am not a classroom teacher, but a school-based administrator, I wanted to create something that could benefit staff who were looking for information about these open source technologies. My decision was to create a Blog, Caught Up in the Web!  that  houses information on why the implementation of social media and web-based resources were useful, how and why to set up a bloghow to effectively comment on Blogs, the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom.

Originally I began building a website with the use of the free web building and hosting tool,  Weebly. This is a fantastic resource that is very user friendly and has a slick and professional look. However, like most websites it didn’t afford me the opportunity to provide regular posts and comments and I found it difficulty to embed certain sources without paying for an upgrade. I ultimately, abandoned the web in favour of a Word Press Blog which allowed my teachers to provide feedback regarding the usefulness or difficulties in accessing the suggested resources, as well as the success and challenges of using social media in the classroom.  I had also considered a Wiki, but I will admit I find the visual appearance of the free Wiki sites rather dated. In addition to creating my teacher Blog “Caught Up in the Web!” I also created a student/teacher Blog for use in my school called “Royal Subjects”, playing on the nickname of our athletic teams, the Royals.  This was as a result of a teacher inviting me into her ELA class to discuss Blogging. My plan is to continue to use this Blog in my work with classes on cyber bullying, school safety, drug and alcohol awareness and numerous other topics I address with small group discussions and class presentations. On this Blog I have created pages for students providing them information on digital citizenship and netiquette, tips for Blogging and commenting, similar to the pages on the teacher Blog but geared towards student use.

I have spent the last year attempting to broaden my understanding of Web 2.0 something I blogged about earlier and discussed in the following Xtranormal video:

A few short months ago I was still pondering on the impact of social media in the classroom, not totally convinced that the risks to privacy and the potential misuse of the medium outweighed the benefits. However, as a result of my experimentation with it and feedback I’m receiving from staff regarding its use, I think the potential rewards far outweight the risks. As I stated in an early post “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, oh Wow” – it is an exciting time to be an educator and I am anxiously looking forward to the future and my continuing journey with technology. If you missed last week’s post  “One journey ends, another begins” featuring a prezi chronicling my experiences in #eci831 – go back and take a look!

I have come along way, but most certainly is not the end destination, just a momentary stop. I plan on continuing this journey!

road to success... by paojus, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  paojus 

Technology – The New Literacy of the 21st Century

Old New Media Readings by Krista76, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Krista76 
Funny , isn’t it? How serendipitous life can be?  Last week I was muttering about how to overcome the bias some teachers and most parents have regarding the use of social media as a blended instructional approach.  Well, this week one of my ethics teachers invited me into her classroom to discuss cyberbullying .   Apparently, she sees me as the resident expert on all things Facebook, BBM, and Twitter (considering my fledgling experience in this area, this is truly scary!!) This was hot on the heels of the previous week’s School Community Council’s Parent Night featuring a guest speaker addressing the very issue of bullying and social media. I suspect she was looking toward me to spell out the doom and gloom of Facebook and cel phones which would be a reasonable expectation, considering our school’s and school division’s rather strict policy regarding their usage – no cel phones in classrooms without teacher permission; Facebook is blocked for student and teacher use in our school. Instead, I came  to class armed with a multimedia assault – launched with clips featuring Dana Boyd , key quotes and media stats,  a TEDtalk video  arguing that social media actually builds intimacy as opposed to inoculating us from authentic relationships (a belief I held as recently as 6 months ago),  links to my Blog, the EC&I 831 Blog  and the subsequent Twitter  responses (Kids were wowed by Visible Tweets  which I had scrolling in the background),  I delivered what apparently was a surprising message to my students. Considering my recent pedagogical shift,  I have to say, it was a surprise to me also.  My  message? Embrace technology it is the literacy of the present and will if it does not already, define your world and frame your experiences. In addition, I chatted about Digital citizenship  and digital identity  – citizenship and identity are changing. As we use social media we must be aware of who has access to the information and how that information is being used. For students who are often unaware of digital footprints, this comes as a bit of a shock. The question is how do we best address changing citizenship and identity with our students in our existing curricula?  Should it be left up to the technology teachers? The ethics teachers? The humanites teachers? Do we earmark it at a certain grade level? Or, does the solution lie in all teachers adopting technological pedagogy which just as literacy pedagogy argued that all teachers, regardless of curricular expertise, were literacy teachers, all teachers are responsible for technological literacy. What are your thoughts?

Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

Last week in my Blog  I talked about personal learning networks and their potential to create professional learning communities  for teachers by providing 24/7 professional support with the potential to extend the walls of their staffroom by connecting teachers from all over the world.  Of course, personal learning networks are not, nor should they be, restricted to teacher use. When we talk about the  “the connected classroom”  – we are looking at  expanding the communication and  collaboration of our students and their  classmates to include experts, students, and facilitators from all over the world through Web 2.0 and social media. Who can argue with that? And yet, K-12 classrooms and colleges have been slow to embrace the use of social media in the classroom, with many college instructors instituting laptop “lids down” time, and states like Missouri, restricting and banning its use public education. Why? Likely, it is due to the stigma surrounding the phrase “social media.” The notion of “social” conjures up fears of idle gossip, time wasting and distractions, as well as inappropriate contact between teacher and student.  As  Jenn Pedde (May, 2011) blogged in Education 2.0: Why Facebook and Twitter Should Be Part of Your Classroom “being social is inherently human.” Social media are merely the tools that enable the student to be actively social.  Considering schools are the primary “socializing” institute! Shouldn’t learning be social? Why should the social nature of learning through communication and collaboration be restricted to the classroom?

Perhaps the obvious answer is this is the fact that education has been traditionally top down delivery. Teachers have been the gatekeepers of the knowledge, selecting what to pass down to students. Although, pedagogically, education and curricula development now recognizes the student as the centre of the learning and the teacher as a facilitator guiding the inquiry, the bias against “outside” sources of instruction may still exist within the teaching profession. Teachers who have traditionally worked in isolation are not likely to embrace opening the “windows “into the classroom.  For those teachers who have embraced technology, the challenge is to find ways to employ social media without crossing the professional line. Such practices as creating Facebook pages for the classroom where teachers would not have profiles or “friend” students, and sending Twitter messages to parents are  promising uses of social media  outlined in the Heriff Jones WhitePaper: The Educational Promise of Social Media (September 2011)  and the New York Times article Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media .  However, the primary obstacle may still be the bias against the phrase “social media” – how do we convince teachers, parents, and school divisions that being  “social” is positive and necessary form of collaboration for our students? What suggestions do you have for overcoming this bias?

Personal Learning Networks

 Up until now, I will confess, that though I blogged, posted and tweeted, I never really considered the concept of a personal learning network until the last several weeks.  Struck by the information Nicholas Christakis  shared in his TED talk The Hidden Influence of Social Media,  I was amazed at the power of social networks and how they have always played an integral role in our personal well being. In fact, our social connections can be linked to obesity, happiness and other physical and emotional states! Amazing! Christakis states that social networks have value as a source of capital. His assertion that we need to become more connected and that we must pay attention to the configurations and combinations of these connections brought home just how integral social connections have always been in our human condition, and the potential for  the social media of  Web 2.0 to create new and exciting social connections which can further  enhance our human condition! to rephrase his metphor – we can create carbon or diamonds depending on the configuration. This may be the best argument I can think of for negating the doomsayers who think Twitter and Facebook are a waste of time.Further to this discussion comes the research of Shelly Terrel on the value of personal learning networks. Her video Why Do We Connect offers the perspectives of student and teachers citing such powerful arguments as “the freedom to learn anything, anytime from anywhere”, “to break down classroom walls”, and  “24 hour professional development.”For years we have talked about reducing teacher isolation by creating professional learning communities, but for the most part this has been perceived as those communities we build within our schools or school divisions – same subject teachers with whom we have direct access. However, the reality is that sometimes this community is too small, or in the case of a specialized teacher, non-existent.  Also, depending on the fluidity of the collective, there may be no new ideas or techniques explored leading to stagnant discussions and little innovation. What better way to create a wide and accessible professional communityand to energize and infuse new perspectives than to build a personal learning network? To that end I found the following video PLN – How to Build One! particularly useful, and shared it this week with a colleague who was looking for a starting point in establishing her own PLN. It outlines 5 initial steps; underscoring all of these, are the three C’s – connect, collaborate, and contribute!! Check it out and let me know if you have any other advice for those of us just beginning to explore the value of a Personal Learning Network.

Information Management – Help Wanted!

Wow, what a crazy week! First off, I just want to say I should read ahead to all the suggested reading/viewing materials before posting – I didn’t realize that there was a Danah Boyd video – pure coincidence (so much for looking like a keener!). But, now that I have caught up on the suggested materials and read many of the Blog posts, I am quickly realizing that I will need to develop some strategies for navigating all the sources of information and class responses – Twitter, googledocs, and the Blog posts via Googlereader. This is way out of my comfort zone, but pretty darn exciting! My goals this week are to contine  step three of Cormers’ 5 Steps to Success which is network, network, network!! Speaking of Cormer’s advice, I really loved the videos on MOOC – it really helped to clarify and validate the use of social media as an instructional medium and I was pretty darn proud of myself for being able to orientate, declare and begin networking! Here’s to hoping I can touch upon steps four and five, clustering and focusing during this course. I suspect I may be overwhelmed by the networking and the management of information process. Thank goodness for the session last night as it provided some useful hints for managing information – Tweetdeck and Delicious being two I plan to investigate further.

In the meantime, I found some interesting clips I thought I would share. The first one helped curb my feelings of ineptitude, dazzling me with the staggering statistics surrounding social media – check out “The World of Social Media” courtesy of Omobono, a digital marketing agency and if that wasn’t enought to get you revved up about social media; check out the TrueNetSource video!

So with all this information available I suspect I am not alone in my confusion. I know we discussed Tweetdeck last night and there was a backchat discussion of Hootsuite – this was video was useful to me in getting started:

I am open to all tools to help me manage my Twitter, Facebook, and Blog subscriptions so let me know what works for you!