Friday, August 14, 2009

We've only just begun

Janus, in Roman mythology, was the god of doors, gateways, beginning and ends, and as Wikipedia defined this god, a patron of concrete and abstract beginnings. He was used as a symbol of transition from past to future, celebrated at marriages and births, a mediator between of all changing importances.

I find myself in the position of Janus. I am looking at an end of this course, the finish of this blog. I am looking to this coming school year and the beginning of a new blog. Being in the middle of this door way and peering out in reflection at both directions, I realize there is much to write about.

Can I honestly say that this entire class was one large highlight for me? Can I say that it was the highlight of my existence as a SLIS student? I know some of you reading this are wondering what in all the world I am talking about. I have no lowlights to my learning of Web 2.0 applications. If "lowlights" is defined by grades, well than I just might qualify, but that's just not a part of my learning policy. I don't measure learning by grades. So the highlight of this class for me was that I could see myself progressing in my blogging style. It was really encouraging to see the growth, but the biggest part of that growth was you. By reading your posts I was able to flesh out ideas that I could apply in my own writing. When it came to discussions, each of you had a unique perspective to present and added sides to an issue or topic I would have thought only two sided. Another highlight was the interaction. We are spaces apart, ranging in a few miles to across the country. But you and I learned to crinkle that physical space into a few bytes. I learned the importance of privacy and safety of self on the web (now, I'm just paranoid when an offer to sign up for something pops up). The thing about learning from each of you is that it won't stop. We are now a part of a blogging community.

Did I have any expectations of this class, of learning or garnering an understanding of Web 2.0 applications? None whatsoever. Were expectations created due to this class? Definitely. I now look at myself at the end of this journey, on the verge of a new one and have expectations of myself to continue the growth of learning. As I look at this school year, I realize that I have to search for my own learning tools now. How will I do this? I think by applying what I have learned to my upcoming classes will be one way of practicing. Doing so will help me to set a pattern, get into the habit of blogging. I realize to better my blogging, to add quality to possible quantity, I need guidelines for myself and for my future audience. Yes, I need a set of standard and a list of goals for what I want to accomplish with myself and this new blog. Maybe I should sign up for 43 Things after all. I need to also need to create a commenting policy as well. I'm going to keep with the blogs I've attained for the RSS feed experimenting. I'm going to slowly explore and apply the current apps I've learnt and along the way pick up what's hot and not through my readings. The biggest hype will be using all of this in my fall classes.

I've gone through this class, but I want to share this experience with those I come into contact with. Enter Learning 2.0 - 23 Things. This blog is a structured platform for those wanting to learn Web 2.0 outside of the classroom but in a structure manner. This project was originally set up for PLCMC staff and the purpose was to encourage experimenting and learning web 2.0. The project was created by Helene Blowers, PLCMC Technology Director, with help from supportive staff and is based loosely on Stephen Abram's article 43 Things I (or You) might want to do this year and 43 Things. When I began the EDES 501 Library 2.0 class, I was discussing the general aspects of the class to a high school art teacher, a good friend of mine. She showed interest in learning what I learned in the class, and now, I can refer her to this site and walk with her through the process.

I know this class is done, but I feel like I've only just begun. The foundation has been laid and now I'm ready to see where I can really go with this Web 2.0 learning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life is a highway, and so is Blogging

Learning of any kind is comparable to a road. As the saying goes, "each journey begins with a step," is entirely true of the education experience. Each new area of learning begins with an exposure of some sort. It can be within the classroom as a student in university, the first year as a librarian/teacher, or after years of work within an educational or library institute. Although we are teachers, we never stop being students. We are always finding ways in which to expand and enrich the learning experience of our students or patrons. Our road has no end, but it always has beginnings. One of the many roads of learning is Web 2.0 applications. The one particular path I want to explore with you today is blogs.

One Lane: You and I
Blogging is seen more as a highway. That highway always has opportunities to expand, but for now, it is a one lane highway. That lane is you. Before that highway can expand into multiple lanes, you must define and establish the first lane, because right now, it's nothing but a gravel road. So as you begin down this road to self-exploration of blogging, here are some things you will discover.

The tool you'll need to build this lane with is a blog. A blog in of itself is a tool. A teaching tool to be exact. You will learn that blogging is a form of communication. The purpose of blogging depends on the goal. Is the goal of blogging to relate your own personal teaching experience, professionally or personally OR to interact with students as you guide them in improving their writing in a showcase style to classmates and the unknown web-world? If you've chosen students as your goal in using the blogging environment, then there are few more things we need to touch base with.

The Standards
Setting standards is another important part of blogging. There's a list a possibilities that blogs can play in a students Web 2.0 learning. Which standard will you choose in their learning experience? Will Richardson provides a list:
    Class Portals: to communicate information about the class and to archive course materials. Students may have an opportunity to critique or comment on this material as a class assignment Online Filing Cabinet: students post their work online for peer and teacher response. This effect creates a filing cabinet and archive for their work E-Porfolio: one small step from digital filing cabinet, this searches as a place to showcase their work to others Collaborative Space: students can collaborate with others online

If you use one or many of these examples, the next item that needs to be taken into consideration is context. Students will be writing in all these examples. Mariela Hristova writes that "students better understand their rhetorical purposes for writing when they envision their writing within a real context." Students realizing that they have an audience that will respond to their writing creates a purpose for writing. Another standard that must be taken into consideration is setting guidelines and objectives before putting students on blogs. Julie Sturgeon suggests code of conduct for blogging that addresses bullying, slander, and foul language. In her article, "Five Don'ts of Classroom Blogging," she refers to Anne Davis's classroom where if students abused the code they lost their internet privileges.

The Goals
So, what should the goal of blogs and blogging be? I like how the Department of Education and Training in Australia has defined blogs:
    Blogs provide a communication space that teachers can utilise with students whenever there is a curriculum need to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken in the classroom.
Their point of view of blogging is seen as a "viable classroom activity" and "a means for teachers to communicate with other teachers." Accessing that space is perhaps the first and foremost in goals. But essentially, goals for blogging should be the same as the physical classroom goals. Students are very much present online as they are in class. The goals should remain the same. Beginning assignments promptly. Cooperating with one another. Always ask the teacher if you don't understand. Participating with comments. Posting assignments on time. What goals you set in the classroom applies also in the blogsphere.

If you're involving your students in setting the goals for their blog community, one place they as a class can list the goals is 43 Things. The basis of this website is to create a list of goals and follow others who have like goals. 43 Things have four different ways to use their site. One that stands out is tracking the progress of your goal by writing entries. Students may suggest goals but it doesn't have to end there. As a class evaluation, students could write entries to see if the class as a whole has accomplished the goal they started with. As Steven W. Anderson points out that it's a great conversation piece. Making goals can be a learning process for students as well.

The Blueprint
Blueprints are guiding lines in creating structure. There is not one set of guidelines for creating the structure for the development of content in blogging. But Patricia Deubel has a few guidelines that would help in the blogging process of students:
  1. Provide posting guidelines: Suggest a minimum number of words or length for each posting based on your criteria for what constitutes a substantive post. Generally, one to two focused paragraphs per post is appropriate...
  2. Provide HTML support, if needed: Depending on your blogging service, you might need to teach students some introductory HTML code to create new paragraphs or live links to any Web content they provide. New paragraphs are created very simply by adding <p> at the beginning and </p> at the end of each... A good place for learning basic HTML/XHTML in tutorial form would be W3Schools
  3. Give priority to student commentary: Your reply to student postings can stimulate dialog. On the other hand, it might be perceived as the final word and cut off discussion...
  4. Involve students in summarizing and moderating discussions:Let's do some math. You might have a class of 25 students, posed only one discussion question for the week, and asked students to not only post an initial reply, but to respond to two other learners. That translates to reading at least 75 posts, replying to many, and then composing your own initial contributions--and you have five classes. Did all learners participate fully? Were the replies of value? Summarizing content takes time, and you might wonder how useful it will be. The question is, "Who should summarize your blog discussions?"
The Tools
The tools available to the students would be computers and the chosen blog program. What's popular and allows for ease of use these days? Wordpress, LiveJournal and Blogger. But Julie Sturgeon gives a compelling argument about the right to be picky when picking a blog software program. Jeffrey Yan mentions in Sturgeons article, that blogs are "riddled with advertisement hat are outside educators' control." There is no way around these advertisement. No one can build a cyber fence around a particular classroom project. The entire blog must be accessed in order to work on a project, including the advertisements. Anne Davis, another teacher mentioned in Sturgeon's article talks about using Class Blogmeister. Although it only has seven templates, it allows teachers more control. Before publication, the entry is filtered through the teacher.

Two Lanes: You and the Students
You've navigated lane one. You've been up and down this part of the highway and you've become comfortable with the ease of travel. It's now time to begin work on lane two. We come to the most important part of why blogging. The students. There are lists of why students should blog (here and here), and Richardson also provides a rather extensive list as to why blogs improve student learning. To quickly sum them up:
    Blogs are a constructive learning tool: teachers and students create content that is being added to the collective knowledge of the World Wide Web. People can search, find and use this knowledge. Blogs expand the walls of the classroom: Teachers and students can now connect across physical borders and boundaries. Blogs are a democratic tool that supports different learning styles: Students who were once quiet in class now have the chance to speak out. Blogs enhance the opportunity to become experts in a particular subject: Students who blog usually focus their reading and writing on one topic giving them topic-specific expertise. Blogs can teach students new literacy skills: In an ever expanding information society, student will need to know how to analyze and manage the information that they come into contact through their professional and personal life.
The pedagogy of blogging and the process of writing are important when writing a blog. A blog will continue with purpose and flourish if it is part of a constructive community of students, teachers and educators. In Rama Ramaswami's article, "The Prose (and a Few Cons, Too) of Blogging," focuses on Barry Bachenheimer's research of students and blogging. The statistics are intriguing:
    It showed that students who blogged felt better about writing overall, and about writing research papers in particular. Of the 25 students in the English class, 74 percent believed that blog posts helped them articulate their ideas better, and 68 percent said blogs helped them determine what to say. Another 60 percent felt blogging helped them begin writing their papers, which is compelling because 84 percent of the students said that the hardest part of writing a research paper is starting it. The students commented that blogs helped them organize their thoughts, develop their ideas, synthesize their research, and benefit from their classmates' constructive comments.
So students improve in their writing, this is great but here's another thought to consider. They're involved and helping to evolve a new writing genre. At least, that's what Richardson calls it. Students no longer have to write the traditional essay format but can now expand in "personal reactions to topics covered in class, post links, write reflectively, and summarize or annotate reading." Richardson lists these possibilities but he calls this new genre of writing "connective writing." Students caught up in this writing method are " read carefully and critically, [a method] that demands clarity and cogency in its construction."

Lane Three: You and The World
You're on lane two. You glance over to the next lane, still a dirt road. Your highway is expanding considerably. Your students are now safely on their way of building the second lane with your help, but you see the potential of letting the third lane coming into existence now. It's time to let the world in and see what your students can really accomplish.

One reason for blogging, you will soon discover, is community; not only the classroom or school community but the world community. In the article, "The Joy of Blogging," by Anne P. Davis and Ewa McGrail, a group of 5th grade students experienced comments from people around the world. Their blogging experience first began with a class blog that their teacher, Anne, created to "instruct the class and share what they were learning throughout the project." Going by the links provided in the post, the students began their learning process of blogging by reading other student blogs, wikis on blogging, and a "book" (a book created on a blog) that the last year students created.

The teacher continued the learning process about blogs by introducing brainstorming about the things they learned concerning blogging and than they drew a representation of their learnings. Only after all of this, did the students create their own blogs. After creating their blogs, they began to write about different classroom activities in their blog. Students learned to comment on other students' blogs. To become part of the world community was preplanning on the teacher's part. The teacher recruited willing participants to read and comment on the 5th grade students blogs. Participants included "Ewa's university classes, students in other blogging classes, retired teachers, and readers of Anne's professional blog." Those that left comments knew "the goals and purposes of the project and set the stage for other readers who later found the student blogs and joined the conversations."

This is one example of collaboration, but where else can we learn about connecting to the world abroad (while sitting in our chairs)? Sheila Offman Gersh writes about teachers connecting their classrooms through blogs to others around the world. In her article, "Global Projects and Digital Tools," she speaks about the online services that allow teachers to connect. Through ePals, teachers have access to 180,000 classrooms in 80 countries. Gersh gives two examples of collaborating classes between Japan and Chile and Japan and India. Kathy Cassidy, in her article, "To Blog or not Blot," mentions YackPack, a walkie-talkie device that can be implanted into the blog.

Things that go bump in the night
Those you want to watch out for. A lot of times as you're traveling these highways, there are creatures hiding in the bushes by the shoulder of the road. If you aren't aware, there are dangers of blogging. Before jumping into the blogsphere with students, certain precautions should be taken. Communicating to the parents about what safety measures have been put in place is a first. Richardson suggests using only the first name of students or "even pseudonyms for students with unique names." No personal information of student should be disclosed. Nothing that will identify them should be present within posts or on the blog. They should know the process of reporting problem in the blogs, "whether technical or content related."

Four Lanes: The expressway
The ride has been smooth, and you and your students are gaining speed over the three lane highway. As you journey on you notice a fourth lane opening. What does this mean? Expansion. New possibilities. A faster lane. Greater movability. Blogs go beyond reading and writing. Blogs can contain podcasts. Blogs can can contain videos. Widgets can be imported to the side menu. Photographs can be shown. Slideshows are now the newest thing on the Blog block. All of these applications can be used to enhance the blog, create discussion, used as part of a theme. These other applications that would showcase in blogs can be explored in their own right. But reading and writing doesn't simply end. It evolves. If you want to go further in your read/write web experience in the blogsphere, it is possible. Richardson provides an extensive list in the evolution of blogging:
  1. Post assignment. (Not blogging)
  2. Journaling, i.e. "This is what I did today." ( Not blogging)
  3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
  4. Links with descriptive annotations i.e., "This site is about..." (Not really blogging either , but getting closer depending on the depth of the description)
  5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging)
  6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere)
  7. Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience response in mind. (Real blogging)
  8. Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging)
Once you get to the level of complexing blogging, don't feel that you are confined to that level only. The wonderful thing about blogs is that it is flexible. Use the blog as you need it or use the blog as your goals dictate.

Still on the First Lane?
Relax. Take a deep breath. Exhale. If you don't get to writing from the get go, that is aokay. Sometimes a blog begins as a place to put up homework assignments or relevant class links. Don't fret about connecting with other bloggers or communicating with them from the outset. Getting use to the blog format might take some time before you progress to the next level. Blogging can be a slow process. That's perfectly fine. Blogs have a diverse use in the classroom. You might want to start with a personal blog before you begin a classroom blog. There are benefits galore in personal blogging. You can blog about your teaching experiences, write a description of a specific teaching unit (see example), or explore important teaching and learning issues. And once you've become comfortable with your baby-steps on this journey, you will be ready to start a class blog and from there expand into the horizon. This is your highway. You build at your own speed. But know this, the road never ends when it comes to learning; there's just new paths.

Sturgeon, Julie. "Five Don'ts of Classroom Blogging." THEJournal. 35.2 (2008):26-30. August 12 2009. Academic Search Complete.

Ramaswami, Rama. "The Prose (and a Few Cons, Too) of Blogging." THEJournal. 35.11 (2008):21-25. August 12 2009. Academic Search Complete.

Cassidy, Kathy. "To Blog or Not to Blog." Connect Magazine. 21.4 (2008):1-3. August 12 2009. Academic Search Complete.

Gersh, Sheila Offman. "Global Projects and Digital Tools." MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. 16.1 (2009):10-13. August 12 2009. Academic Search Complete.

Davis, Anne P.,McGrail, Ewa. "The Joy of Blogging." Educational Leadership. 66.6 (2009):74-77. August 12 2009. Academic Search Complete.

Richardson, Will. "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, And Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms." Thousand Oaks; Corwin Press; 2009.

Monday, August 10, 2009

on a reflective note

well, we're almost done and I can honestly say, I am sad that we'll be parting ways. Yes, I am talking to you:) Okay, we're not entirely parting ways if we continue to peek on one another's blogs, but the coming together in WebCT (aka eclass) will be missed. These last few days of class and the intense coverage of everything blog-related has brought to a self-realization that I love this. And by "this" I mean blogging. It's only now that I am getting into the swing of write/read web. I am finally exploring other edublogs (a gold mine of humor, by the way), beginning to comment on the bloggers I am adding to my RSS feed...well you know what I mean, we're in the same boat, for petes sake!

I am contemplating on whether to keep this blog for the coming school year. Do I start a new one and explore my academic year with a fresh interface and fresh blog? Or just keep this blog and fiddle around with it's structure. I am conflicted. Anybody have suggestions? I'd like to hear what you think.

I do realize that this may be a head start on the reflection we have to submit at the end...oh well:P