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My Final Project April 8, 2009

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For my final project for EC&I 831 I chose to do a classroom blog.

One of the primary reasons that I chose to create a blog was to recapture “lost” time. As a teacher for many years I have spend untold hours helping students to catch up on missed work. This may entail simple questions such as “What did we do yesterday?”, “Can I have that handout you passed out the other day?”, or “I lost that review sheet, may I have another?” Though not purposefully meaning to disrupt classes, it does limit time for instruction or helping other students with current projects. With a blog that has this information on it I thought I could retrieve some of that [lost] time and use it in a more effective manner.

Another reason that I chose to do a classroom blog was to create a sense of ownership in students as to take charge of their own education. Students seem to rely on myself, and I presume other teachers, to fill in gaps in their work and always seem to create excuses to why they did not do something, or that they forgot when something was due. By creating a blog I hoped that this would allow students to rely on themselves for checking the website and finding due dates, missing assignments, information, etc. This also helps those students that miss classes due to various reasons (illness and travel being but two examples). With the ability to check from anywhere where there is access to the Internet there is no excuse to not be caught up. As a side note this blog also forces me to be more concise and organized when it comes to posting and my work.

Lastly was the creation of the blog to get parent(s)/guardian(s) involved in their child’s education. I have been teaching for roughly nine years and many times at Parent Teacher Interviews I have had parents lament upon their lack of knowledge of what happens in the classroom on a daily basis. Even with a proactive teacher that may call a parent (often with negative comments than positive) then communication between school and parent is limited. I had hoped that with a blog and parents with access to the Internet that they could become more proactive in their child’s life by knowing what was happening daily within the classroom and that they could talk with their child about their education. Perhaps with parents assisting with students’ education a greater sense of communication between the two could be built and hopefully relate to more success within the educational system. Parents could now be informed about school life and not feel disconnected from it.

One of the major barriers of this project actually guided much of the final look and development of the blog. The largest barrier for the classroom blog is the rural/urban split that Meadow Lake suffers from. With roughly about 1/4 of the student population in rural areas, with dial-up Internet service, I was aware from the beginning (actually ECMP 355 and a previous project) to not incorporate too many things that may tax those users. I first and foremost wanted to make sure that everyone had as close to equal access as everyone else.

This led to many ideas being nixed due to bandwidth issues. This also focused my thoughts and energies in such a way to keep the blog as simple as possible, yet have the resources needed to have students/parents to find it useful. This led to many trail and errors runs with various tools to see what worked best.

The blog initially began as just a site listing the daily activities of the goings on within the classroom. Information listed was simply what note we may have done, key terms/ideas, when homework was due, and upcoming test dates.

To me this led to a rather boring page, though useful in its barest sense. As the weeks progressed I started to listen to students and explore some other needs that arose. For example, some students misplaced worksheets over the weekend and failed to have their work done for Monday. I therefore began to explore options to embed documents within the blog. Blogger {which I chose as the simplest must user friendly blog site to create said blog) can embed many things, but not documents. This led me on an Internet search and I discovered Scribd. This third party site allows a user to store documents, PowerPoints, graphs, etc. online and embed them into other websites. After playing with the settings I was able to embed documents (such as assignments, review sheets, PowerPoints, Jeopardy games) as to not be to obtrusive and taxing to bandwidth issues. An example of such a post is here. Students responded well to this and I have since been able to cut down on the amount of extra paper wasted as I would traditionally run off extra for lost paperwork. Also students began to take more responsibility for their work and coming prepared to the classroom.

The next two major additions to the blog were an agenda calendar (at the top of the page) and hyperlinks. The calendar (to the top right of the page) was an addition to to allow students/parents to focus on upcoming deadlines for tests/exams/school events in a quick manner. These were previously embedding within the blog entries but I realized that people would have to scroll through the various dates to find this information. With a quick reference option I thought this would be an added bonus.

The final addition were hyperlinks. I realized that in posting homework and assignments that students may not have access to their textbooks. I have in a last few weeks placed links to approved sites, from myself, to assist those students in doing their work. See an example of the Law 30 links here.

Students have responded favorably to the blog but many still were not checking it out. Parents have been more so using the blog to communicate with their students. So to gently “push” them into using the site I have added Google Forms (to embed Journal Entries and Polls) and have posted review questions to upcoming tests/exams on the blog as well (using Hot Potatoes). In the last two weeks there has been an increase in traffic to the site according to the stats and I hope that this trend continues.

Parents as I have previously said have responded favorably. At last night’s parent teacher interviews I gave many parents the blog address much to their delight. Those that have been using it over the last two months have enjoyed the experience favorably saying that they could now ask their students “the right questions” regarding school work. I have had parents of students I have not taught say to me that they wish more teachers would do this. In fact during today’s presentation to the Board of Education my blog is being highlighted as the progressive nature of education.

Past these improvements I cannot think of anything else I could add that may improve it, without interfering with the rural/urban digital divide. As a final move to assist in eliminating large downloads I began to archive weekly.

The only other barrier felt during this time were school filters. Many times during this term I have had my blog blocked here at the school from students and myself. According to techs at the school division the filters reset themselves and revert back to original programming blocking social network sites, in which Blogs are part.

There have been many positives in the creation of this site. These include increased communication between students/parents and myself. I have exercised my ability to problem solve while keeping info short and to the point. I have found communication in the more traditional sense (phone calls/meetings) have run smoother and more friendlier. It seems that the blog is creating an educational partnership among interested parties all helping students to hopefully achieve bigger and better things.

As for where is this blog going or how can I improve upon this? In the short term I do not know what I may do to improve it. With filters and the digital divide in place I feel that I do not want to do too much too soon. With more feedback from all parties this has been a success; with more feedback it can only become better.

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“Twouble with Twitters” April 8, 2009

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Found this amusing look at Twitter. I find it funny as I can see some of Derrick’s side of Twittering. Now before everyone gets in a uproar over this I must clarify that I haven’t spent much time with Twitter, and have found Derrick’s point of view to be at times right on the button. However I have seen some positive uses of it and maybe with time I might find it [more] useful. Regardless, this is a funny view of the Twitter phenomenon.

Just how private are cell phones? April 8, 2009

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My wife showed me this video regarding how safe is your cell phone. I find it disturbing and scary at the same time, yet ironically not that surprising. I know that news channels often over exaggerate dangers for ratings, but I think it does give a general idea of some of the dangers of technology.

The embedding option has been blocked by YouTube by request I presume from the News Station so here is a link to it.

Top 100 Tools April 7, 2009

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Thought that this might be a great way to summarize some of the tools that I and others have been using during the class.

A term in review… April 7, 2009

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So I am at the end of my tech exploration for my Masters course. It does not seem that long ago that I began this blog and course. I thought as one of my last posts I would briefly explore my successes and shortfalls. Notice that I do not say failures as it is my strong belief that I am not done with technology and exploring those things that did not work. I firmly believe that I have not failed with any technology. I believe that I have not successfully found where and when I can best use it. With more time and thought I believe everything that I tried can successfully be used. I simply must find the appropriate time. Simply adding technology into the class is not the solution. It must be thought out to be successfully integrated where all educational partners benefit from the experience.

Successes

Perhaps my biggest success has been my Classroom Blog. Here I have had many compliments from students and parents alike for this resource. Students find it useful to make reference to it for upcoming tests/assignments and for downloading misplaced study sheets/assignments. Parents have found it useful as a communication tool to talk with their sons/daughters regarding their educational experience

Google Docs has been a pleasant surprise as a resource for my Law 30 students. With group work and sharing of assignments forgotten thumb drives, blocked email, and locked lockers have been a troublesome problem over the past few years with the Law 30 Newspaper Manual. With Google Docs this barrier seems to have been removed. Each class there seems to be more and more students adopting its use (not only for my class but others as well).

Connecting to students. Technology has brought a new world to me that today’s students seem to be at home in. As students see me interacting with technology and using vocabulary that they are familiar with a new “respect” seems to be emerging for us. Though we are not connecting in the traditional “Web 2.0” world, it seems to be happening within the classroom. Is Web 2.0 simply a virtual landscape, or can it be on the physical realm as well?

Professional Learning Communities/Networks. Though I have not yet mastered social connecting tools such as Twitter, I have found a new life in sharing ideas, resources, and technology with others both virtually and in the physical setting. I am consistently talking technology and its various uses with my VP. We seem to compliment one another in our views on such topics, pushing one another to explore other ways in using technology that separately we have not thought of. Within our PLCs the Social Science department at Carpenter has struggled to find a common goal all year. Last PLC we discovered technology and I found myself as leading a sort of technological birth within the Social Science department. The department has embraced Blogs & Wikis as a technological tool to reach students/parents on a whole new level.

Comfort level. I find myself willing to take chances now with technology. Though I was a little comfortable before [this course], I rarely ever took chances or time to look for new innovative ways of using technology within the classroom. This class has done that. Instead of passively waiting to have someone show me a new technology, I am actively seeking it out.

Shortfalls

Twitter: I have yet to tap this resource fully as I have not had the time to explore it on any in-depth level. I have found some useful sites from it and feel that it has more to offer and in time it might.

Podcasting/Videos/VoiceThread: Both of these technologies intrigue me and I see much potential in using them as most students seem to be comfortable with these technologies. Perhaps using them to create “Historical Minutes” reviewing aspects of Canadian history (like CBC Heritage minutes) would be a fun process combining technology and studies. Podcasting and VoiceThreads could be used to give students a voice from the traditional written journal entries that I do in class. Definitely these reach out to those students (like me) that hate to express themselves in written word.

Student Blogs. I have attempted to use these in my Work Exploration course. With some students they have worked and for some they have not. The main reason for this seems to be a digital divide between town students and rural students. With more thought about how best to implement this I believe it could be a huge turning point to connect students to the online world.

Final Thoughts

With time and effort, when all the Masters craziness ends I believe technology and its use will carry on within the classroom. Its use is assured, just in what venue to best adapt it to is the remaining question. With my PLN and my comrades within the Community Based Masters course and my friends within EC & I 831 I think we will be there to support and push one another into Web 2.0 and beyond (Web 3.0). This has been a most positive adventure that has many returns associated with it.

Is the law strangling creativity? April 1, 2009

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With some free time tonight, though I should be marking, I explored some of the video links that Alec has posted on the EC&I 831 wiki and came across one that really spoke to me. In Larry Lessig’s “Is the law strangling creativity?”, there are a few points that jumped out at me.

I enjoyed his beginning talk about ownership and the idea of trespassing. I think it speaks to some of the more basic characteristics of humanity and the idea of greed. Wanting to have everything and control over it. A similar thought to what Alec was talking about in his presentation tonight on Elluminate as schools are stuck in a rut of controlling information. I do hope that an open source movement or copyleft movement could relax some of the control that seams to permeate today’s society as people become protectionist over various domains.

Two cases in point came to mind as legal issues stifling creativity. The first was another Masters student, Jim, who posted a YouTube video about himself with music in the background. He showed someone his video one day and noticed the soundtrack was off. As he explored he found a note on the page citing copyright infringement. He was shocked and dismayed that this happened. When there is so many pirated music out there, and he gets targeted on YouTube. The second was my purchase of my favorite show from the 70’s, WKRP. This show set at a radio station in Cincinnatti showcased some of the best music of the 70s. In its DVD release a couple of years ago the music was replaced with generic muzak. This simple changed destroyed the show for me and I couldn’t watch all the episodes. Here greed again, for money, stifled the creativity and popularity of the show.

The idea of stifling creativity is becoming more obvious. The various remixes are generous. The idea of taking various media and mixing them in new unique ways is simply entrepreneurial. The videos of anime with the Muppet Show music were remarkable and funny. Jesus mixed in with the “I will survive” song was amusing as well. If artists did not let those people use that material we would be devoid of this entertainment. Weird Al makes a living doing this and his songs at times I find more interesting and entertaining than the originals. I sincerely think it is a form of flattery. I do see a point if someone is getting rich of it someone else’s work, but for sheer creativity standpoint copy left is essential, just against our human nature.

The last point that Larry brings up is the idea of a new literacy developing among today’s generation. Today’s generation thinks, writes, acts differently than fifteen or twenty years ago. The way today’s generation learns is different as well. Add in their awareness of media, texting, movies, etc., and their ability to create new exciting ways of looking at the world is endless. If only we could adapt to it to harness that creativity. Many teachers seem to be afraid to give up control to this new way of thinking, but I see it as a challenge to try and learn about it, adapt it and maybe grow with it. This is not a barrier to be overcome; it is a challenge to be welcomed.

Class blog April 1, 2009

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Over the past few weeks I have been meeting with parents of students within my classes. I have had the pleasure of giving out my class blog to assist parents in communicating with their child(ren) as they travel through their educational experience. Many of these parents have said that the blog has been a great tool and wish that more teachers would have something similar. I have had three parents, of children I do not teach, come up to me and say what a great idea the blog is and their hopes of getting me in the future.

The one area I have felt lacking in is the students’ use of the blog. I know some people are using it to check on homework, get misplaced assignments, and checking due dates. But there are still so many who don’t. I have been looking for ways to direct their attention to the blog to see what they can do with it. Journals have helped, but I thought that there could be more.

The devious guy that I am I came up with an idea. When I took Alec’s ECMP 355 or 455 many years ago he showed us something called Hot Potatoes. The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises. It is a cool thing to work with and surprisingly simple. I did a little work with in then and there, but quickly forgot about it after. Just a couple of weeks ago while I was surfing a social network I saw the name again and had an idea. It was a couple of days before a Law 30 test and I decided to post within the class blog the matching question (Question 1) from the exam (using Hot Potatoes). I snuck it in there and said nothing to the students.

The day after the exam one student mentioned it in class that she saw the question online. This caused quite the buzz in the room. I have noticed since then that hits have gone up. I hope that students will see the blog for what it is, a great resource not just a cheat sheet for tests. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. I guess time and students’ responses will tell.

Interesting CBC Podcast March 31, 2009

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I came across this CBC Podcast a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post it. The original Podcast though not meant to focus on social networking and student/teacher relationships, it turned that way about 10:42 minutes into the Podcast. Also be sure to check out the discussion on the “chat” board. It has mimicked much of what we have said within our course on technology (regarding fears, pros and cons of technology), and whether or not educators who use the Web 2.0 technology are more effective than those who do not.

Women of Web 2.0 March 31, 2009

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Last week Alec Couros had our grad class try something a little different and suggested we try EdTechTalk. With last week’s schedule quite full with the upcoming drama regional fest and a Masters meeting the only session I could attend was Women of Web 2.0. Needless to say I had some fears of being the only male in the room, but thought that maybe I would see another side of social networking from a different perspective.

From the beginning I was frustrated with UStream. At the very beginning it was down and took a few minutes for the issue to be solved. That is understandable when it comes with technology, good when it works and frustrating when it does not. However throughout the hour long session the audio would cut in and out, get stuck in a loop for what seemed like minutes at a time. Honestly I do not know if this is a constant problem with UStream or not, but I much prefer Elluminate and its more solid performance.

The session began with the sharing of “wows” which were Web 2.0 tools that the speakers all recently discovered. I thought that this was a great idea in sharing resources of what prize tidbits were available. However almost immediately I discovered the trend (aka problem) that occurred all night, the pacing of the show was horrible. The links came up so fast or so slow that the audio and visual was greatly out of tune with one another. As they talked about the merits of these jems of 2.0 you could hardly keep up with them. The speakers seemed to talk without much respect for the audience. I found it nearly impossible to explore the links when the audio and chat room were in sync. Honestly it made me appreciate the pace of our own sessions much more.

I found that people who wished to ask questions, either in the chat room or verbally, seemed discouraged as the speakers consistently stayed on fast forward not allowing anyone to cut in. This led to much confusion on my part as to what was being talked about and who exactly was talking as many times more than one person was talking at a time.

Like Megan and Trevor I found the host at times condescending and irritating. There seemed to be a natural bias that only those teachers using technology were effective. Honestly it seemed like an hour long pat on the back for them. I understand that these individuals have been using technology effectively in their classrooms and made some great points, but their attitudes turned me off. I think an educator who was not as comfortable with technology as I am would easily become frustrated with these sessions and maybe become turned off of these Tech sessions. Perhaps if there was a note to indicate that it was a more advanced class, or perhaps they have lost their focus on who they wish to educate, it could be better.

Now I must say that not everything was so bleak that I would not try another EdTechTalk. I think it showed educators effectively using technology in new and interesting ways. With those individuals using the technology and bridging the gap between theory and practice it was enlightening. Perhaps with more polishing and a more “structured” approach to delivering their words of wisdom the sessions could become clearer, more meaningful, and more user friendly.

Tech Thursday? Tech Week!! March 22, 2009

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This week has been a busy week in technology. Beginning with a PLC on Wednesday the floodgates opened and technology ran rampant for the remainder of the week. All good! Let me explain.

Within our social science PLC group at Carpenter we have been struggling with finding common ground between us all to try and come up as a group an issue to tackle. Trevor can confirm this with a similar problem last year. As we sat around chatting about everything else but a PLC topic, someone mentioned technology (as we were in a room with a SmartBoard). That innocent little comment turned into the best PLC day ever for the five of us, and the quickest PLC day ever (even staying after the bell). Our Native Studies teacher showed us his Wiki he created for his Native Studies courses. I then showed my classroom update blog. The other members of the PLC group were hooked and the rest of the afternoon was spent signing people up to Google, creating Blogs, exploring Google Docs, Wikis, etc. We have the creation of two new blogs and promises of coming back to expand upon these ideas next week, like uploading documents (via Scribd).

Thursday Jim showed me some new social websites that I have begun exploring. Jim showed me a website that ranks the most popular social sites. This site has introduced me to some new tools that may help me find links to new materials, interests, and resources. StumbleUpon is a site that you let know what your interests are and have it show you more websites and web pages that you’ll like. Docstoc (dot-doc-stock) compiles a wealth of legal, educational, technical and business documents for you to download for free. You can upload your own files in a number of formats. Mango brings total immersion language learning to the Internet, exposing students to conversations with native speakers. These are but three social sites upon this website. It is really amazing to flip through and covers topics that any person can connect to. Web 2.0 is alive and well on SEomoz’s Web 2.0 Awards. Check this site out…if you don’t you will regret it!

Lastly was Friday where I spent an entire Law 30 class sharing Google Docs to my students for their law newspaper project. As they work in teams they often find it hard to share writing when one forgets a thumbdrive, email being blocked by filters, etc. The students were enthralled with the ease of Google Docs and sharing as collaborators. I have a feeling that this year will be much easier in sharing legal ideas. The students played around for an entire period on Google Docs! Who would have thought a word processing site would entertain teens for an entire period.

The best part of this week, is a reawakening of my tech interests and ability to share. For once I felt like I was teaching people about technology and its uses, not the other way around.