Posts Tagged 'collaboration'

Featured student blog: meet Ann

Cross-posted at Fireside Learning and Classroom 2.0.

Many teachers shy away from contemporary music. Why? It could be because their own teachers did the same.

That quote comes from Ann, an aspiring music educator at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She and 14 other pre-service teachers are enrolled in a section of IT486, Intro to Instructional Computing, that I am teaching this summer. The course examines how to use technology to support teaching and learning and is designed to prepare novice teachers to integrate a variety of computer-based technologies.

One aspect of the course design that I really enjoy and value is the blog for reflective journaling. This is a required component. During the first week of the course, each student signed up for a blog at Google’s Blogger. They were given a certain amount of license in the look and feel of the blog, but the overarching rationale for the pre-service teacher blog is the same: to develop and practice the reflective process. (More on that later.)

But why blend an introspective mode of writing such as journal writing with a public medium such as blogs?

As Christopher Sessums maintains:

Collaborative weblogs promote the idea of learners as creators of knowledge, not merely consumers of information. A collaborative environment like the one I’m suggesting can allow peers to be seen as valuable sources of knowledge and ideas; a connection that participants can rely on beyond any formal classroom structure, i.e., collaboration leading to a community of interest.

So to that end, I have been making readerly comments on each pre-service teacher’s blog, and I am encouraging the class to follow, read, and comment on each others’ blogs.

And now, to go a step further, I seek to shine a spotlight (or, in the case of our music major, “sound a trumpet”) on some provocative posts in hopes of inducting our novice edubloggers into some of the wonderfully generous and nurturing networks of teacher/learners that have supported me in the past — communities such as Fireside Learning and Classroom 2.0.

Ann’s commentary on the state of music education strikes a chord because she describes a phenomenon that transcends content area and grade level: teachers tend to teach in the manner in which they were taught. Why is this so? How do we press forward into new realms of teaching and learning and resist falling back on tired and familiar practices that have outlived their effectiveness for today’s learners?

What do you think? I invite you to visit Ann’s blog and share your thoughts and feedback with her.


YA Lit 2.0

Cross-posted at the Media Literacy Ning and Classroom 2.0.

This is the last in a series of posts about things we can do in honor of Support Teen Literature Day 2008, which is today, April 17.

In previous entries, I’ve discussed book talks and read-alouds and blog-based literature discussions. These and many other activities are featured at the official teen lit day wiki presented by the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA).

The wiki offers more than 30 things to do in celebration of young-adult (YA) fiction. Additionally, the YALSA homepage links to a wealth of YA booklists and professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians.

As I first perused these resources, I was reminded of just how influential YA has been in my own reading life.

And I was also struck by the utter transformation that has occurred within the YA genre since that summer, more than 25 years ago, when I made the profound and life-changing leap from children’s author Beverly Cleary to Judy Blume, the celebrated YA author who wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

For one, the options, in terms of authors and titles, have increased exponentially. The topics and subject matter are also darker and edgier, with more potential for cross-over appeal among adult audiences.

But without a doubt, the most profound change is technology driven. Digital technologies are transforming the very nature of what teens read as well as how they read. From within computer-mediated environments, youth can discuss, nominate, and vote on their favorite new YA titles, participate in surveys, and even chat in real-time with YA authors and readers from around the country.

I remember reading Judy Blume for the first time. I was maybe 10 years old and felt so privileged and so awakened to the fact that books could serve as more than a pleasant diversion from life. Books could also be topical and relevant to my own life and experiences. Wow!

I devoured Blume before moving on to other authors — Betty Miles, Paula Danziger, S.E. Hinton. My favorite, dog-eared books might have been called “feminist fiction for girls,” with female protagonists in various stages of social, emotional, and physical development — all the typical pubescent pangs.

Good stuff. I was engaged, and I stayed engaged until right around the start of high school when I gave up YA almost entirely to take up the “serious reading” of a college-bound student. I did not resume true pleasure reading again until well after college, in my mid-20s.

How much richer my reading life might have been had I had the opportunities that youth have today to connect, communicate, and form communities around favorite titles and authors, to possibly even interact in real-time or asynchronously with the authors themselves.

In the 2006 article YA Lit 2.0: How Technology is Enhancing Pleasure Reading, author Anita Beaman documents the impact of web-based and interactive technologies on how modern teens read for enjoyment.

Citing the work of Eliza Dresang, who in 1999 wrote Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age, Beaman highlights how books for children and young adults have evolved new formats such as novels in verse, screenplays, multiple narrative perspectives, and graphic novels.

Beaman writes, “It was becoming obvious that the mouse-click generation was going to be looking for something new in print.”

She goes on to present evidence that, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescents are reading, especially when given opportunities to reach out to authors and other teens in media-rich, interactive environments that include email, blogs, iTunes playlists, and MySpace pages.

This is the new playing field — YA 2.0.

Asserting that “YA Lit 2.0 is a sign that books and reading remain relevant to teens in a digital world,” Beaman concludes with advice to librarians who want to develop programs that are relevant to teen readers: download the playlists, read author blogs, create blogs, visit MySpace, and “share the entire reading experience” with teens.

For Beaman, a high school librarian, the implications are clear: if librarians want to be taken seriously, they must revitalize their programs and immerse themselves in these digital environments, right alongside the teens.

Certainly, any literacy educator would do well to heed this advice.

What do you think?

My two wikis

Over the last several weeks and months I have been compiling two wikis to showcase my work as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. They are:

  • eMentoring Toolkit-a site for sharing 21st century tools and strategies to enhance mentoring and induction of new and novice teachers, and
  • Lubke’s Multiliteracies Site-the virtual home for coursework completed in my reading education classes, Spring 2008

I am using Wikispaces. In an earlier post titled Choosing a wiki, I explained how I ultimately selected this application out of the several dozen wiki platforms available online.

In very “wiki” fashion, my sites are continual works-in-progress. In very “un-wiki” fashion, they have been a solo effort, lacking input from peers, fellow students, or instructors. I wish I could say I have experienced the transformative power of wikis as forums for collaboration and consensus building, but at this juncture, my overall impression of wiki software in general, and Wikispaces in particular, is that of quick-and-dirty web authoring tool.

Oh, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun, too!

If you have an interest in eMentoring or multiliteracies/New Literacies, I hope you will drop by my wikis and tell me what you think.

Constructive advice

As is wont to happen on the Web, I found this terrific quote by scientist John Seeley Brown by way of this article about communities of practice at The Learning Circuits Blog, which I found by way of this post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about virtual communities. In an interview with Line Zine editor Marcia Conner, Brown spoke eloquently about learning, knowledge, and the relevance of constructivism:

We tend to forget that learning and sense-making go hand in hand: we tend to forget that for the learner, the student, there’s always this sense-making going on even if we, as teachers, think everything is clear. Now, suddenly, teachers have been thrown into the same kind of chaos as their students. This has created a symmetry that really focuses on how we need to jointly learn together.

What a gift it is to celebrate balance and harmony amidst “chaos”!

What do you think?

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Choosing a wiki

It is time to create my first wiki!

I’ve decided a wiki is the best way to showcase the links, resources, and artifacts for my independent inquiry on eMentoring tools. But with nearly one hundred different free, web-based programs for generating wikis, choosing the right one can be a daunting task.

In this post, I will share a little of what I know about wikis in general, and then I will share the process I followed for selecting the right wiki program for my project on eMentoring.

First, a little background on wikis.

Simply put, a wiki is an interactive, editable web site built around a specific topic. The best wikis grow and thrive within a collaborative community of users who share an interest in the topic.

Perhaps the most famous example of a wiki is the international online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. But there are many examples of small-scale wikis, too. Of course, the scalability, utility, and constructivist nature of wikis have led to their widespread adoption across many content areas in education. For example, the International Collaborative Literature Project is a wiki shared between two classrooms, one in Israel and the other in Canada.

The Classroom 2.0 wiki is a great resource for educators to share resources and links about web-based technologies in education. It has a section specifically about wikis. (Now we are talking about “wikis within a wiki.” Hope this isn’t getting too confusing!) Visit this page and watch the embedded video titled “Wikis in Plain English.” After watching the instructive video, scroll down to view an exhaustive list of potential uses for wikis in the classroom. This page also features links to specific wiki applications, examples of classroom wikis, articles and research on wikis, and many other resources.

Now, how to choose from the many free wiki applications currently available online?

Well, I started by reading the archived discussion on wikis at my favorite network for technology educators, Classroom 2.0. In this forum, teachers from all corners of the globe share their likes and dislikes about the various wiki platforms. These are invaluable, in-the-trenches insights from real folks who have already experienced the ins and outs of wikis in educational contexts.

The three most popular wiki applications discussed in the Classroom 2.0 forum are PBwiki, Wetpaint, and Wikispaces. These applications tend to meet educators’ needs in terms of cost (free), privacy and security settings, and utility/ease of use.

I also noticed from the discussion that as teachers grow more comfortable with the wiki concept, they are beginning to demand more artistic control over the design and appearance of pages. Consequently, many teachers favor Wetpaint, which allows users to choose templates and font colors. Even those who love Wikispaces indicate a desire for more graphic design capability. (But others say they prefer Wikispaces clean, simple lines.)

All three applications — PBwiki, Wetpaint, and Wikispaces — offer features to customize and “brand” pages, and all three allow users to embed videos and other multimedia files. Wikispaces recently released a customizable widget feature.

To sum up, much of what drives wiki choice is educator personality (a preference for simplicity over artistic control, for example) followed by the intended audience. Do you plan to use the wiki to collaborate with colleagues, or is it intended to foster collaboration within a class of fourth graders?

Next, I visited WikiMatrix.

WikiMatrix allows visitors to compare multiple wikis and identify the best wiki application to fit their needs. At this writing, it is possible to compare 97 different wikis on the matrix, so unless you arrive with a few applications already in mind, I highly advise you use the handy WikiMatrix Choice Wizard. The wizard performs an instant needs assessment after you click your responses to a short list of questions.

It took me less than five minutes to complete the wizard. In the process, I not only narrowed the list down from 97 to 19 wikis, but I also learned a lot about the basic considerations and motivations that go into the creation of wikis. This was a powerful exercise!

I also felt vindicated to see that PBwiki, Wetpaint, and Wikispaces made the short list spat out by the wizard.

After completing the wizard, it is possible to click a button to generate a comparison matrix. The matrix enables you to judge the apps on a number of different criteria such as costs, intended audience, bandwidth requirements, topic restrictions, and security features. The matrix contains loads of information but is not very easy on the eyes; be prepared to do a lot of horizontal scrolling if you want to compare more than six or seven apps at a time.

I was in no mood to look at 19 wiki apps, so I generated a smaller matrix focusing on PBwiki, Wetpaint, and Wikispaces.

In the final analysis I chose Wikispaces for my project because of teacher testimonials regarding technical support and responsiveness as well as the fact it was created specifically for small interest groups and educational settings. In the long run, I want to create a web site that educators with varying levels of techno savvy will feel comfortable accessing, reading, and possibly editing. What Wikispaces lacks in visual appeal (compared to Wetpaint), it makes up for in terms of ease of use.

And that’s what I think.

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A refined focus for Fall ’07 independent study

It’s easy to dwell in the instant “wow factor” while neglecting to answer questions about how Web 2.0 will transform teaching and learning or even why the transformation is needed. Some, like education technologist and theorist George Siemens, are calling for more practical discussions that emphasize wise and effective implementation.

In his Connectivism Blog, named after the learning theory he pioneered, Siemens writes:

. . . we are seeking a window dressing solution when it is the house that needs to be renovated. If we present blogs and wikis as ways to improve education, our aspirations are noble. If we present them as ways to fundamentally alter the system to align it with the knowledge needs of the next generation, then we are fighting for real change. . . . Forget blogs…think open dialogue. Forget wikis…think collaboration. Forget podcasts…think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation… think personal networks. Forget any of the tools…and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated. But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon.

The name of the post is: It’s not about tools. It’s about change. I like that.

As outlined previously here in this blog, I am undertaking an independent study of how to foster, support, and grow learning communities for new and novice teachers using the latest generation of web-based tools.

As I conduct my inquiry, I wish to be held accountable to the standard outlined by Siemens.

What do you think?

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Update on eMentoring tools

I am knee deep in my assessment of eMentoring tools. So far I’ve explored the Ning platform and the Tapped In web site. These explorations, combined with feedback from some helpful folks and my own background reading, have led me to reconsider and reshape my rubric for assessing eMentoring tools that I posted a few weeks ago.

First of all, issues common to traditional software assessments — licensing, cost, system requirements, usability — seem to fade in importance when the focus is on web-based tools. It’s still good to consider these factors (and I am), but here is the kicker: start up is amazingly accessible and affordable with this new generation of tools. It’s an important aspect of what drives the phenomenon that some call “Web 2.0.”

As concerns for installation, hardware upgrades, and user manuals recede into the background, the users (in this case, teachers representing all levels of technical expertise, from non-existent to superior) can really focus on the features that best ensure collaboration and innovation.

This is really exciting!

So, on the one hand, we have these tremendous platforms for creating virtual “hubs” or learning communities to support mentors and novice teachers. A school community might choose Ning, Tapped In, or one of the many course management, blog, or wiki applications currently available online.

Or, a school might elect for a combination of these.

On the other hand, each platform includes a variety of user features. It is this menu of customizable components or “accessories,” if you will, that will figure most prominently in the choice of platform.

A post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at the TechLearning Blog titled Virtual Communities as a Canvas for Educational Reform includes a number of helpful tips, tricks, and questions to guide a physical community in their virtual journey. I used her list of questions along with some input from Sarah Stewart to tweak my rubric. Sarah reminded me that user features must be judged by the degree to which they foster collaboration and relationship-building and by how well they enhance the moderator’s role. (Nussbaum-Beach provides an excellent description of how virtual communities live or die by the quality of the facilitator/moderator.)

As I mentioned before, all the other factors for reviewing software are still up for consideration, but I’ve fleshed out a more thorough checklist for user features. Here is that checklist:

  • demos or online tutorials for new users
  • secure login, privacy settings, and passwords
  • user-generated content and interactivity (reviews, forums, chats, discussion threads, blog posts, file uploading and sharing, etc.)
  • link sharing
  • file uploading and sharing (documents, movies, photos, slideshows, etc.)
  • archives for webcasts, chats, discussions, etc.
  • search by categories, keywords, or tags
  • customizable layouts, themes, and templates
  • member profiles
  • polling or surveying capability
  • voice capability for synchronous events
  • support for multiple languages

When a community of educators, bound together by a common interest or passion (such as nurturing the next generation of teachers), decides “to go virtual,” they should think long and hard about what they want to be able to do, see, create, and share online. Then, they should select the tool (or tools) that will allow them to accessorize their virtual home accordingly.

What do you think?

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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn

"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

Train of thought:

These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy