Monday, July 30, 2007

The Doug Johnson Desktop Challenge

Doug Johnson, on his Blue Skunk Blog, posted the following challenge: As long as you are putting up a picture of your home office, share a screen shot of your computer's desk top too! If you dare.

He claims it's a snapshot of the user's brain... I'm in trouble!

Though, in my own defense, I've been working on a big video project. (hey, any excuse....)

They Finally Get It

Andy Carvin blogged today about the recent online safety senate hearings. Definitely worth a read and gives me hope that the public-at-large are beginning to understand that protecting students from offensive online material is more about information literacy than it is about filters.

From Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI):

These are all difficult, yet critically important issues that parents and children face in an information age. If we search for a “silver bullet” solution, we will not find it.

Rather, our efforts must rely on a multi-layered strategy – one that teaches our children about safe and responsible online behavior; one that encourages industry action to develop tools that will aid parents in their efforts to restrict inappropriate material from their children’s access; and one that relies on swift and certain action by law enforcement officials in finding and punishing those who would use the Internet to harm children.

Transformational Blogging

The crucial part of education outside of 21st century literacies…is that students learn to teach themselves…Their task is to become an expert in [a topic meaningful to them] and to share their growing knowledge with others. They should research the topic, decode what they find, evaluate it to select the resources that are most valuable, analyze, manipulate and assemble what they learn in a way that makes personal sense, and then create an information product that expresses their knowledge of the area in a way that compels other people. David Warlick, Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century

Classroom blogs are a place to be complex together
. David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous

I blogged a couple days ago about the profound effect this independent study has had on me this summer, and how I want to re-create that experience for my students this fall. In between writing papers contrasting the Semantic Web with Folksonomies and creating video tours of Botswana (it’s a long story!), I’ve been thinking about how to go about constructing such an assignment. My main worries focused on walking that fine line between allowing the students the freedom to engage in the process and create their own meaning, while still providing enough structure to guide them, give motivation to the initially less-than-motivated, and satisfy institutional requirements for grading.

I'm also trying to decide if I want these to be individual projects or if they should link up with an overseas partner. I'm leaning towards the latter, but need to check with a couple friends still teaching overseas to see if they want to work with us on this.

I’m not sure I’ve hit that line. I need to work out details—whether the blogs are personal or a group space (depends on age, I think. I’m not sure what grade I’ll be teaching yet), intermediate deadlines along the way, peer evaluation, plan of study form, final project, assessment rubric. But here is a rough outline of the project.

I'd love any feedback or comments you may have!


This semester, you’re going to become an expert. (You didn’t know it was that easy, did you? ) Well, it is. Moreover, not only will you be an expert, you’ll share your expertise with the rest of the class (and the world), basking in the ooh’s and aah’s as everyone marvels at your brilliance. How cool is that???!

So just how will this happen? Slowly, but surely.

First, pick a meaningful topic you’re interested in. No Britney Spears. No Paris Hilton. And no dubious moral explorations (you KNOW what I mean!); otherwise, the world is your oyster! You wanna write about extreme skate-boarding? Go for it! Are anime or graphic novels more your style? Fantastic! The function of mitosis in the morphology of cancer cells? Brilliant! My only caveat is that you choose a topic you are REALLY interested in, because you’re going to be spending a LOT of time on it.

You will also be exploring the topic from all angles. Thus, if you choose to write about extreme skateboarding, you won’t just study different tricks. You’ll also look at the physics of it, compare/contrast board designs, and…other stuff. (Hey, you’re the expert! You tell me what your study should include.)


First, complete the Plan of Study form and turn it in to me for approval/comments. This will act as your guideline through the semester, but it’s not written in stone. As you research, you may find areas you need to add or areas that fizzle into nothing. That’s just part of the process!

In the Plan, you’ll need to include:

1) Research Plan
  • What do you already know?
  • What do you need to find out?
  • Possible sub-topics, specialized vocabulary, etc.

2) Possible information resources, including
a) three books/articles
b) two blogs by experts
c) news feeds
d) websites
(I’ll teach you how to set up an RSS feed so you can monitor all of these quickly and easily.)

3) Final Project—How will you share the information?
  • Blog (required, see below)
  • Other possibilities include
  • video tutorial
  • wiki
  • podcast
  • Whatever best suits your topic/information


As you research, you will also keep a blog about your findings. THIS IS NOT A JOURNAL!! We’ll talk about it more, later, but basically this is a reflective analysis of your process and findings. In it you can:
1) Discuss your findings
2) Raise questions about topic, resources, findings
3) Link to important material and discuss it
4) Think about your process—is it working? Does it need to change?
5) Vent your frustrations
6) Celebrate your successes
7) Respond to feedback

My requirement is that you :
1) Post a MINIMUM of twice a week (on your blog)
2) Comment twice a week on your classmates’ blogs.

We will do a midterm assessment to:
  • evaluate your progress
  • make any necessary changes
  • start planning final project

We’ll also set up Furl accounts for you to store/share your bookmarks.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Advanced Searching Tools

A good cheat sheet showing how to use some non-advertised advanced search features in Google. (e.g. using "link:URL" to show all the pages that link to a site or "info:URL" to find out info about a website.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tag Clouds in Blogger

I found these great directions from phydeaux3 for creating tag clouds in Blogger. Cool!

Engaging Students in Real Learning

As the semester winds down, I've been thinking a lot about how much I've learned doing this independent study. I recognize the difference in how I think about this "class," vs. the other three "have-to's" I'm taking. They've been interesting, but haven't generated the same kind of passion and intensity and excitement. I willingly spend HOURS reading and researching Web 2.0, and only grudgingly skim the readings for, as an example, my organizing information class. My only guidance has been the initial planner I set up for myself and the plethora of blogs and books I found. Gurus like David Warlick, Will Richardson, Doug Johnson, Joyce Valenza and Vicki Davis act as signposts on the journey, wisely suggesting directions I might like to explore; immersing myself in the ed tech network until I all but live, eat and breathe the stuff has profoundly affected my understanding of technology and its use . I don't know if I would be so melodramatic as to say it changed my life, but it certainly changed how I think about my teaching and, more importantly, my own learning.

As I start making plans for using this information next year, I realize this is what student-centered learning is all about: guiding students to discover and explore their bliss, as Joseph Campbell would put it. While I do have an obligation to teach some content (!), I also want to recreate this experience for my students, to help them find the passion to become motivated self-teachers and learners. Obviously, giving assignments on the use of symbolism in The Joy Luck Club isn't going to do that.

So I'm thinking that, in addition to the usual kinds of assignments--which will now be A LOT more collaborative and student led, I want to give them the chance to research, explore and blog about one topic per semester that's of interest to them. They'll still need to incorporate the writing, technical and analytical skills needed for class, but that should be inherent in the topic, especially as, (Inshallah!) they work deeper into the topic and become more engaged.

I have a paper to write for Friday, then I'm going to sit down and plan out the general overview of how such a project will look. I'll blog it when I'm finished.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Collaborate with Thinkature

Just found this great Web 2.0 app, thanks to Mashable's 60+ Collaborative Tools collection.
Thinkature is different from wikis in that it allows for real-time collaboration. Group members can edit the same work space at the same time, which makes it great for planning. The site allows instant messaging AND voice chat. Text is type in color coded boxes. A rudimentary drawing tool is also available.

You really couldn't complete a project or a paper here, but it's a great place to brainstorm ideas.

Other interesting collaborative tools:

Writeboard: Think Google Docs meets wiki. Online document collaboration that saves all versions and allows you to revert or compare.

Novlet: Novlet is a web application designed to support collaborative writing of non-linear stories in any language. With Novlet you will be able to read stories written by other users, create your own, and choose the plot you like most from several alternatives.

Kalabo: Allows musicians to collaborate, download free original music, or remix.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cool Tools

OK, enough high-sounding theory for a while. Let's get practical (and have some fun!) Links to some great online resources I found recently.

GradeFix: I don't imagine most organizationally-challenged students would take the time to use this (I know I wouldn't!), but it's a nifty tool that allows student to enter assignments, time-frames and dates in order to schedule their work.

VoiceThread: I'm beyond excited about trying this out (thanks for the heads up, Joyce Valenza!). A great, easy way to introduce digital storytelling, to younger students or as a beginning project for older students. Allows the user to record audio in sync with digital images. Use for oral histories, foreign language conversations, math (or any other) tutorials. And what a great tool for end-of-year self evaluations. Students could photograph portfolios and record their comments/analysis.

Versionate: I haven't tried this yet, but if its website is accurate, it has real potential. This is another wiki site, but the difference is it allows you to view files online (think Google Docs), without having to download them to your computer first.

Cells Alive!: Now, I'm an English major, but I still love this site. Various Flash images dealing with mitosis, cell biology, etc. Some are interactive, others are videos. You can view online for free, or download for a reasonable price.

Paradigm Shift

From David Warlick's "Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century." (Really, this should be required reading for every single student teacher/librarian.)

We educators have lost control over the information. Children control it now. They need to learn to control their information in positive, productive, and personally meaningful ways--and this is the what we need to be teaching them.

Too many educators don't get this. They complain about plagiariasm, cut-and-paste internet use, poor work ethics. They fail to recognize the problem isn't the student: the problem is the spit-it-back assignment that allows this to happen. Instead, teachers need to create real research questions that put students in control of content and process and product--with guidance, of course.

Friday, July 20, 2007

WWW Crashes!

Vicki Davis over at CoolCatTeacher posted this humorous video from YouTube. Too Funny! As she noted, this would be a great discussion starter for internet dependency!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beware the Barbarians!

If you haven't read it yet, you really must check out this great exchange between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger on the Wall Street Journal. Fascinating reading, and Weinberger make a compelling argument for the barbarians; nevertheless, I'd like to add a few points of my own.
" digital abundance will lead to intellectual poverty. The more we know, the less we will know."
While Keen is right in theory here, he assumes no intervening medium (i.e. technology and information-literate librarians and teachers). The more volumnious the Web becomes, the stronger our imperative to nurture students towards information fluency, to teach them the tools and techniques to manage the glut. Keen argues as an overwhelmed digital immigrant, rather than a confident digital native, (or, at least, a naturalized digital citizen).

His most laughable complaint, of course, was the democratizing of media--everyone and anyone can publish. The web heralds the death of the Expert as we all succumb to a "flattened media without...the essential epistemological anchor of truth." Here we go again! Anyone with a knowledge of history knows we've been swinging back and forth between the Classic and Romantic philosophies for eons. The Read/Write web is just the newest manifestation of it. Is there garbage on the web? Absolutely! Heaps and heaps of it. Just as there is in traditional print media--look at the tabloids or the shelves of Barbara Cartland books out there.

More importantly, these are the same arguments we hear in the education world against the student-centered uses of technology: the teacher is the expert. They have to get the content across. Students don't have the intellectual and analytical capacity to know what they need to learn without teachers their to fill their eager little brains. Hogwash.

This is keeping power centered in the few and ensuring one's job security. The most exciting aspect of the read/write web is that, at last, students have a tool that allows them to take their learning into their own hands (with guidance!) and engage themselves. They transform from passive observers and listeners to active participants. They learn both process AND content, if teachers are willing to step aside and let them.

Keene declares editors (read: teachers) the "arbiters of good taste and critical judgment" (Has he READ some of the stuff being printed lately??) and that flattening the web "unstitches the ecosystem." Like that's a bad thing! In a system that inherently disadvantages the non-conformist, it's long past time we ripped a few seams and let the edges unravel a bit. Better yet, (if I can really push this metaphor!) Web 2.0 is like a big quilting bee. While there's no Coco Chanel to create an overall vision, each member brings her own bits of cloth and her own skills which, combined, create a work of art greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


It has been pointed out by people who know me well that I left out the most important podcast I listen to. Since there hasn't been a new episode in months (and it's not exactly tech related), I didn't include it. However, in order to quell the (ahem!) snarky comments regarding my intellectual pretensions, and since the new episode is apparently in production (we've heard that before, Revello, but I live in hope!) here is, inarguably the best podcast ever created. Bar none.


If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan at all (grin--and if you're not, you should be!), this is really a must! Also check out Radiofree Sunnydale.

Planning Progress

As my year of grad school starts its mad rush to the end (only three more weeks! And so much to do!) I realized today I better start planning now for keeping abreast of all the latest ed tech info once I start working again this fall. I've been granted the incredible luxury of being able to spend as many as 6-8 hours a day just browsing and reading and hunting down great information and websites. Obviously, I can't keep that up once I'm actually in a library. Not if I want to keep the job, anyway! If I want to keep up this level of learning--and it's been a real path-changer for me--it's not going to happen by accident. Thus, here is my plan to both learn and share on a regular basis.

My Circle of the Wise. Vicki Davis (CoolCatTeacher) posted a while back about creating a web of wisdom around yourself--immersing yourself through reading and online networking in people who truly inspire you to create the world you envision. It's important to keep the momentum and inspiration going and not become lost in the daily routine. I've created a multi-faceted program that I think will be both useful and workable.

  • I have a manageable collection of blog gurus to read: Joyce Valenza, Will Richardson, Doug Johnson, etc. (see my blogroll for the links). I actually have more in my feed than I do on my blog roll.
  • I've also created a nice mix of technical feeds (TechCrunch, Mashable) and theoretical/philosophical reads. (The above mentioned names, though they provide lots of practical info, too!)
  • I'm building a routine of reading my feeds right after my email in the morning. I'm getting pretty good and skimming and scanning. Anything that takes more time, I can star to read later.

Fortunately, I have about a 30 minute drive to and from work every day. Bummer on the gas, but a great time to get those podcasts in that I would never have a chance to listen to, otherwise. My regulars:You can also subscribe to all of them through iTunes, or find others worth listening to.

Social Networks:
These will be the hardest to fit in, I think, but offer fantastic opportunities to collaborate, share, seek advice from and work with like-minded (and very experienced) professionals. I've joined several groups on the Ning site, and vow to check in for at least an hour each week. (Total, not each!) Groups I think will be a valuable resource:

Finally, I vow to keep up my own blog. Not just because I hope it will be a resource for my classmates as we part physical ways, as well as my my new co-workers in Connecticut. But more because, as with all writing, it's such a learning tool for me--an opportunity to think, reflect and make connections. As E.M Forster said, "How do I know what I think until I see what I write?" Wise man.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

ThumbStrips: Never Lose a Website!

While perusing my daily blogload this morning, I ran across this cool little Firefox extension in TechCrunch. Thumbprint makes running filmstrips of all the websites you've visited and stores them in a bar at the bottom of your browser. If you've ever gone into a clicking frenzy and crashed your browser, you'll know what a nifty gadget this is, especially if you can't restore your tabs.

It allows you to turn recording on and off, search across tabs and content, and even save sets of pages to return to later or share.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing??

I don't get it. Can someone please explain the use of Twitter to me? Why do I need to know on hour by hour (or minute by minute) basis, what someone is doing? I have enough real information to manage (not to mention my own life) without having to add in the minutiae of someone else's life. It seems to be the MySpace, nothing is personal anymore, concept taken to extremes.

I'm sure there's more to it. So, please, tell me: What am I not getting?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Read, Write and Ruminate

Will Richardson's blog from Wednesday is causing quite a stir among the ed tech blogosphere. In it, he states teachers, on the whole, use technology as an electronic version of pen and paper show-what-you-know pedagogy, rather than allowing the process to take over and engage students in authentic experience and learning. (At least that's my take on it.) Now most teachers don't want or need to hear another claim that we're failing to do our jobs; yet sometimes the last thing you want to hear is most what you need to hear.

I'm no tech guru, but my classes usually integrate technology more than other teachers'. Looking back on some of those assignments, however, I recognize their somewhat rote nature: they were online essays. Ironically, the best tech assignment I ever gave was the one I knew least about. The first video documentaries I did. I was clueless about the technology, or even much beyond the basics of how to put a documentary together, so the students had to figure it out themselves with some rough guidance from me. As you can imagine, their product wasn't all that great (with a few exceptions), but they learned so much about collaborating and teamwork and planning and, yes, even persuasion in its various forms. I learned from this experience that sometimes the best way to teach is to simply get out of the way and let students learn.

It's not that traditional books and essays don't allow this. I wrote a paper while working on my Master's in English that, quite literally, change the course of my life because of what I realized as I wrote it. (It's a long story) But I do think its a more solitary event and happens less frequently with traditional methods. It takes a certain willingness to immerse yourself in language that few people possess. Technology facilitates those connections--whether through the literal linking of pages/ideas or through the collaboration process and "wisdom of crowds" phenomenon, or both, or neither. That's the thing about technology--it embeds you in process. Writing this blog has been an act of learning for me even more than one of sharing/teaching. (grin--fortunately! This start-up lack of readers thing can be a bit disheartening!) It forces me to make some sort of coherent whole out of the chaos of my reading, then allows me to directly link to those readings and draws it all together, so I start seeing relationships. Traditional writing does that, too, but in a much more abstract way.

Where the real difference lies, however, is in David Warlick's profound response to Richardson's column. He wrote (in the comments):

I would rather not look at the production of a video or a podcast as the end of an assignment, but as the beginning or continuation of a conversation. We are so focused, as educators, with what is learned. I wish we were more focused on learning.

That blew me away, because he's absolutely right and describes what is so absolutely wrong with NCLB and standardized tests and the general way we educate students. We focus on content, not skills. We focus on product, not process. We focus on teaching, not learning. It's not that the product isn't important: Imagine trying to tell your boss, "Oh, I know the presentation wasn't very good, but I learned SO MUCH putting it together!" However, we tend to rush students through those beginning and oh-so-necessary phases in our efforts to get something to grade so we can move on to the next bit of content we need to cover. We don't give them enough time to explore and engage, because we have to finish Chapter 13 by January.

More importantly, we're so overwhelmed with the minutiae of the job, that we seldom allow ourselves the time to learn ourselves. This independent study has been a real god-send for me. I floundered the first few weeks, trying to figure out what I should be exploring, but as I searched and probed and dug, out of that mess process grew the roots of a solid understanding not only of the technologies, but of how they can be used to best advantage. Well, the beginnings of an understanding anyway. More importantly, I'm excited. Truly and honestly boring everyone around me with my enthusiasm excited. I haven't felt that way about teaching in a few years; I can't wait to try out my ideas this fall. And don't we owe it to ourselves (and our students) to do everything we can to encourage and nurture that passion? To move beyond covering content and into enthusiastic engagement?

I think so.

I actually had more to say, including an article I read about being a "Techno-Constructivist," but I'll save that for my next blog!

The Blogosphere is Flat

I belong to three or four different Nings, which are social networking forums for adults, based around mutual interests. For example, I belong to Joyce Valenza's Teacher/Librarian Ning, the Classroom 2.0 Ning, and a couple others.

The folks at EduBloggerCon, who apparently had a whale of a time, since their enthusiasm has been overwhelming the Ed Tech blogosphere the past week or two, wanted to continue (and share) the experience. Hence, EduBloggerWorld--a great community of high-tech gurus from around the world anxious and willing to share both their experience and knowledge. A great way to network and keep abreast of what's going on in the ed tech world.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I'm a Beta Tester!--and Free Invite

I'm so psyched! For the first time ever, I'm a beta tester. Does that mean I'm an official techno-geek now?? The wonderful Ewan McIntosh of offered free invites to the first five to comment on his site--just about the time I actually logged in. As lucky #4, I spent some time this evening playing around with Skitch, a Mac-only screen capture program that is oh-so-much-more.

It syncs with iPhoto and iSight, then allows you to draw, scribble or type over the image. Here's a sample I did for a photography class, showing the rule of thirds and leading lines. Skitch allowed me to highlight the areas I wanted noticed and grey out the rest.

Once you've played to your hearts' content, you can share via email, web, blog or through the online mySkitch. Very fun, with a great little video tutorial to quickly teach the basics.

This could be useful in all kinds of ways:
  • Marking up web pages to share with students (great info lit tool, pointing out what to analyze. In fact, highlight areas of the site and have students describe what it tells about the site's level of authority.
  • Labelling photos to share in a blog or wiki for student discussion (especially for Art and Science)
  • Students could photograph the stages of a project (or dissection), with commentary
  • Visual Vocabulary--photograph the "meaning" of a word and write the word on the picture
  • Demonstrating PE skills
  • Geometry students could take pictures of real life objects that demonstrate, say, acute angles, label them and upload to a wiki.
  • Classroom displays for Back to School Night.
I'm sure there are myriad other uses I'll need to think about!

Anyway, two invitations came with MY invitation; one I'll use as a giveaway during my workshop, but I'll offer the other one here for the first person to comment. (grin--this should test whether anyone is actually reading this blog yet!)

17th Century Blog

Well, almost! As an English teacher, I found this too great not to blog on! Would-be actor and web designer Phil Gyford has taken on the task of re-creating Samuel Pepys' famous diary online as a blog, adding a new entry each day. He provides an intro, a summary and each entry has hyperlinks to relevant online material. (e.g. a picture of Pepys' wife in Flickr).

Really, this is beyond marvelous and a great primary source for English and History teachers alike.
A few posts back I was very excited about Wikialong, a portable wiki that allows students using Firefox to make comments on websites. It's high on my "coolness" rating! I've since discovered Diigo, which is Wikialong on steroids. A great cross-browser tool, Diigo is multi-functional, allowing users to highlight and annotate text on websites, post sticky-notes, bookmark, save video clips, post to blogs or the web and share. It loads into your browser and even offers a "light" version called "Diigolet" that's less feature rich but easier to use.
In the image below, I highlighted key text, then posted my comment in a sticky note for other group members to see.

Like Wikialong, this would be a great tool for students to collect and share resources as they create wiki projects (or any other project!) Moreover, it supports multiple browsers, unlike Wikialong so if you don't use Firefox, you can still use Diigo.

I think I'd use Wikialong for younger students (say, 4-9), then introduce older students to Diigo.

A Whole New You!

After reading Joyce Valenza's blog about Avatars, I started playing around with the idea. I'm working on creating a blogging handout that, while it's linked to a workshop, will also be self-sufficient (I hope!). Thanks to Joyce, I added a section on Avatars, as I think they'd be a great way to allow students an extra bit of web safety while adding the personal/individual touch they sooo love.

If you don't know (as I didn't) an Avatar is a small image linked to a social networking site (or your blog) that stands in for an actual picture of you. There are sites allowing you to choose already created avatars, or ones that allow you to generate your own. I had a fun time working on this librarian avatar on Yahoo. I only wish I were that thin and hot-looking!
Yahoo! Avatars

So here are some links to help you find/create avatars.

Pre-made avatars:

Avatar Makers:
MessDudes: (This one's really fun and good for the younger set.)
Abi-Station: Very detailed with lots of options, but takes time to load/browse through everything.
YahooAvatars: Lots of options, easy to use, includes ALA options.

All of these allow you to download the images you create in a variety of formats and/or generate code to post them into blogs, etc.

Have fun!!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Toon Time

I'm on the Teacher/Librarian Ning, and a a member there (Lesley Edwards) posted that she'd been playing around with ToonDoo. I'd never heard of it, so thought I'd check out this interactive site that allows you to create your own cartoons. Now, I have an artistic deficit (stick figures are a challenge) that has been screaming for such a tool since Bill Putter, in 5th grade, looked at my picture of a deer and commented, "Nice dog."

The program allows you to choose from myriad characters, props and backgrounds, then type in your own speech bubbles, then email it, save it to your blog or, or myriad other options. The cartoon below is a great example of using this as a classroom tool. You could:

  • Make cartoons about classroom rules/procedures
  • Have students make cartoons about novels they're reading or historic events, or
  • Create their own graphic novels (or novelettes)
  • Make cartoons to summarize scientific ideas or research, or
  • Demonstrate vocabulary (the 'toon needs to be an example of the word, not just used in the speech bubbles).
  • Foreign language scenarios (it supports special characters)

Other Ideas?

Digital Divide 2.0

I've been thinking a lot about the new digital divide recently, and how to bridge that gap. I blogged awhile back about Joyce Valenza's new manifesto, and just read Doug Johnson's latest post on the subject, both of which discuss the newest incarnation of digital inequity. While there are still disparities in access to technology, "efforts like eRate in the US and MIT’s laptop initiative in various parts of the world have gone a long way toward getting the Internet into people’s lives," according to an article on the Digital Divide Network.

We've even recognized the "new" digital divide in the need for students to use technology effectively to access information. As my classmates interview for their first library job, most of them report that (aside from the ghastly "What can you coach?" question, which is a whole 'nother rant!), much of their interview related to their use of technology. Enlightened administrators understand that access to technology is meaningless without the ability to use it not as a stand-alone tool, but within the context of real, relevant and worthwhile projects.

It worries me, however, that while we discuss these issues, we really don't seem to be doing much about them. And this is where I found the DDN article especially interesting, for in it the author defines two additional divides: policy and motivation. We all know there are dangers out there in the virtual world. Whatever you think about filtering in schools, it does serve some purpose in protecting students from the seamier side of the web. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to avoid parental confrontations, many district have gone overboard by blocking access to many Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis, Flickr, YouTube and, most infamously, MySpace.

Yet the Advisory Panel to the Congressional Internet Caucus recently held a forum on Online Youth Victimization that debunked many commonly held beliefs regarding students' online presence and stranger danger. Basically, research shows most kids are pretty smart about online behavior. In Totally Wired, Anastasia Goodstein reports that only 150 of the 800,000 kids reported missing each year are taken by strangers. This isn't to say we don't need to teach students to be careful, but to suggest that completely banning the technologies is an over-reaction.

These tools are only going to grow increasingly ubiquitous, with modifications for use in business and education. By banning their use in schools, districts limit their students' ability to collaborate, develop analytical skills, and learn to use these tools in meaningful ways rather than as an extension of their social calendar. Students unfamiliar with their intelligent use will suffer very real disadvantages as they enter the college and job markets.

While I find that worrisome, the lack of motivation to incorporate the technologies into daily practice bothers me even more. I'm in a top-ranked library school, yet the one technology course students are required to take starts with "this is a mouse." The students' final project does include creating a basic web page, but there is almost no discussion/use of the read/write web. Nor are these tools integrated into the classes themselves. We spend a lot of time creating posters, class discussions through BlackBoard, and (very deadly) Power Point presentations, yet little on anything else. Our use of these technologies just transfers paper and pencil onto the internet.

More significantly, when I tried to get my group to collaborate through Google Docs and a wiki, I met with considerable passive resistance. (Basically, my groups ignored the opportunity and just posted individual responses, which another group member later combined by hand.) This disappointed me no end, but was understandable, I suppose, as my classmates were unfamiliar with the process, and didn't want to add that learning curve to the already extensive project workload. However, if we don't learn these skills in college, of all places, will there be time/opportunity on the job, when we're multi-tasked into near-exhaustion?

The bigger problem is that we, this graduating class of cutting-edge librarians, are the ones schools trust to train faculty and students, yet we're not using the tools on a daily basis ourselves. How are we supposed to encourage others to do so? In order to be technology leaders, we must be technology users. How can we teach faculty to integrate blogging and wikis, give them ideas for their use, if we've never used them ourselves? Where's the credibility? To stand in front of a group and say, "Well, Will Richardson's book says they're very effective," lacks motivational oomph. And if teachers won't use the technology, students won't be able to.

As educators we have, if not a moral imperative, at least an educational imperative to move into the pedagogical 21st century. We owe it to our students. We owe it to ourselves.

Too darn funny!

NYT tech columnist David Pogue has real genius for writing schlocky satirical lyrics on current issues, e.g. check out his hilarious take on fair use and the RIAA. (David, David---PLEASE post the musical version--not just the lyrics!)

Anyway, he just wrote iPhone: The Musical. Apple loves the free advertising, I'm sure. But it's still pretty darned funny.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Best E-Tool Ever!!

Forget iPhones with $600 price tags. If you want to have some fun with technology (and you use Firefox) download a great little browser extension called Wikialong. (It's free) This app is the coolest thing I've ever seen! I got so excited, I forced my fiance move from his comfortable position lying on the sofa to come take a look.

Basically, Wikialong turns the browser's sidebar into a wikipage. As you move from website to website, you can leave notes and comments. If someone else with Wikialong happens upon that page, they can read/edit/add to your comments. I kid you not! It's like Post-It notes for web pages!

The uses of this for the classroom astound me. Students working on a wiki could post a list of links for other group members to examine. At each of the links, they could leave questions, comments, suggestions for use, to which other group members respond.

Teachers could build a web-quest/ Treasure Hunt a la The DaVinci Code, with clues at each web page, which students then piece together. (Good netiquette would require you to go back and delete the comments afterwards, of course!)

Those are just two I can think of off the top of my head. If you can think of others, please post in the comments! (And, once again, thanks to Will Richardson's book for mentioning the extension.) Too cool!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Research That Rocks

Doug Johnson absolutely nailed it in his latest blog on research projects. It really is a must-read for anyone at all interested in real assessment. Here's why.

A few years ago, after 18 years of teaching English, I was growing bored with the usual persuasive essays, so decided in one of those "fools rush in" kind of moments that I'd have my 10th grade class do a video documentary on a current problem in Cairo (where I was teaching at the time.) I figured it would take, oh, 3-4 weeks, tops. I knew absolutely nothing about filming, or editing software, but when did I ever let mere ignorance stop me? Three months later, the students turned in their final documentaries, most of which were awful (though not all. Not that I can take any credit for that!)

Yet I consider that unit one of the most successful of my career. I was almost as clueless as the students were, so when problems arose with camera or sound or editing, we'd hold brainstorming sessions and I'd often turn the spotlight over to one of the students. They had to work in teams and collaborate and compromise. They researched. They interviewed. They wrote. And then, poor kids, I turned them loose on the filming/editing and said "You have six weeks." I don't know what I was thinking. Live and learn.

Well, after we sat in agony (or laughter) through all of the documentaries, and I was wondering if I'd just wasted twelve weeks of valuable class time, I had the students write an evaluation with suggestions for improving the project next time. I told them I wanted honest comments, thoughtful comments. And they complied. Those evaluations were their real assessment; I was floored by the students' insight into the process, their own strategies, and where my management helped/hindered. They moved beyond mere iteration of content to a profound understanding of what worked, what didn't work, and how they would improve the experience.

That summer I took a class on making videos, which gave my next class a far better experience; they produced good--occasionally astounding--documentaries, and certainly learned a great deal. Moreover, their videos are being used for real audieces: the Sudanese refugee video helps recruit volunteer workers, the animal abuse documentary educates local Cairo children. And yet I sometimes think the earlier class learned more because I was less in control. I also worry that, now that I'm back in the States and tied to NCLB, there will be less and less time for these sorts of authentic projects. For as Doug points out, they are not about correct answers, covering the curriculum, or multiple-choice tests. Few teachers will take the risk.

There are also few teachers willing to take the time. Last year, the documentaries took six months to complete. Obviously, we worked on other tasks; nevertheless, that's a lot of time in an already crowded curriculum. I also took quite a bit of flack from others in my department who said, "These kids can't even write essays, and you're having them do films??" To his credit, the teacher who made that remark came up to me after seeing the Sudanese refugee documentary and ruefully admitted, "OK, I get it now."

Thus, next year, I'll not only do the documentaries again, I'm giving a workshop for other staff in digital storytelling. I'm plugged in to the AFI, which makes wonderful tools available free to teachers, George Lucas's Edutopia website, and Library of Congress' link to primary source materials that can be used in student videos. And I plan to ask Doug if I can open my presentation with his posting. I can't imagine a better way to start!


A few days ago I ranted about Googlephobia and said, as teachers/librarians, rather than denigrating Google and Wikipedia, we needed to teach students to use them thoughtfully. This is library heresy, at least according to my cooperating teacher during my practicum.

Well, no lesser person than Chris Harris in the School Library Journal agrees with this radical statement. He said:

We cannot, however, continue to reject Wikipedia because we aren’t comfortable with the wiki process itself. Our students and their parents are just fine with it. To be quite frank, continually bad-mouthing Wikipedia to the very people who use it—successfully—makes us look a bit daft. It would be much more productive to teach colleagues, students, and parents how to best use Wikipedia. Instead of appearing to be “behind the times” when it comes to new information sources, librarians can foster educated, high-end users who verify Wikipedia entries using the history and discussion tabs. If we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em—as leaders in promoting the proper use of Wikipedia.

I rest my case!

What you Learn When You Start Reading Blogs

I haven't posted in a few days because I've spent so much time chasing down cool apps in the plethora of blogs I now read every morning, thanks to Will Richardson's RSS guide, which taught me the power of aggregators. He makes the point in his book that it's the one tool every teacher ought to use. At the time I thought that was probably over-speak, but I can't believe what I've learned/discovered in the past week, just from reading blogs! Here are a few of my favorites.

Edu.blogs yesterday highlighted some of Ewan McIntosh's bookmarks. Zentation has real potential both in the classroom and as part of Library 2.0. Wouldn't this be great for online tutorials? You could video presentations you give to classes, then post the lecture/power point for other students to access.

This hilarious Periodic Table of the Internet is going be a feature of my library this fall.

I don't remember which blog pointed me to, but I plan to show it to students next year. It allows students to take/share notes, upload files, create to-dos, and link with Facebook.