Web2 Course: Final Reflection

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

 This is the final (reflection) post as part of the Web2 Course that our school in enrolled into. When deciding to participate in this course, it wasn’t for the reason of learning about Web 2.0 tools. Rather, it was the opportunity to learn and lead with colleagues. Particularly as our senior school has embarked on a 1:1 laptop program, this movement forward was vital. As equally important is the capacity of teachers in the years leading up to to the senior years.

 

Although I didn’t gain a whole lot of new information from undertaking this course, I still enjoyed it for a few reasons.

 

Firstly, by being familiar with the course content, it allowed me to lead other staff at our school in supporting them to utilise ICT effectively for our collective students. We often held “Techie Brekkie’s” where we could come together informally to discuss and share resources and ideas to support teaching and learnings. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and have been inspired by how some staff have really taken this course in their stride to increase their own understanding of current and emerging web 2.0 tools.

 

By participating in this course, it reaffirmed my beliefs and knowledge regarding the wide range of tools at our disposal, and the myriad of ways to use them. However, one mainstay for me is that it still comes down how these tools are used…for better or worse; as I believe poor pedagogy and the introduction of ICT can at times only amplify the ineffectiveness of teaching and learning.

 

Have staff developed their capacity to effectively use ICT to enhance learning? Hard to say.

 

Did the course build confidence for staff in pursuing ICT tools, and expose them to the reality and necessity to harness technology to its true potential? Probably, yes (hopefully!).

 

 

Web2 course M10: Virtual Learning Environments

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider tools to design Virtual Learning Environments.

Web based instruction has been a popular educational delivery option in many sectors of society. Given its growing use and potential however, it is important to understand if this delivery option is effective; as well as the contextual, pedagogical, and theoretical approaches that augment its effectiveness. The use of the www in the delivery of education does not necessarily equal effective activities or quality instruction for students. The development and advancement of technologies has brought the increased expectation of technology should be used in education. This is where Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or Content Management Systems (CMSs) have been implemented by educators in a way of responding to the change of trends in education in recent times.

Below are 5 tools that can be used to design online learning:

Wikispaces: A great tool for it’s ability to let users edit, build and comment upon changes to pages and content on a simple structure.

Google Sites: is a lot like wikispaces, although it does have a wider range of widgets…and of course, googly integration into its other services (for eg. Google Groups for setting up discussion forms).

Nings: Nings are a lot more social, and allows spaces to be designed so users can contribute to personal and shared contributions.

Edmodo: Like Nings, interaction is social. Files, assignments and libraries can be shared and accessed easily.

Moodle: Open source software that requires web hosting, but a fully fledged LMS that quite a few university institutions are using it as their platform.

This year I have had great success in using Wikispaces with our students in our 1:1 laptop program. First, let me begin by explain where we have come from.

For teachers in the catholic system here in Victoria, you might be familiar with the online system SINA and MyInternet. Since I graduated 7 years ago, MyInternet was already in schools. It was slow, unintuitive, and handled like a shopping trolley. Nothing much has changed to this day in 2013, and this is what schools are given to use (and we are still waiting for the implementation of ICON, based on the DEECD’s Ultranet system; which promises to be somewhat better than MyInternet).

So, with the introduction of widespread laptop access this year, it was imperative that our VLE be based on something robust, quick, easy to edit and post content, and relatively easy for staff and students to navigate. I would say wikispaces has fulfilled this purpose perfectly. At the moment we are using it in a very transmissive way, in that, teachers upload links, lessons, files, and activities onto the wiki, and then we access them as a class, group, or individual. Having a reliable and easy to use platform has made our teaching and learning with the laptops very effective.

Personally, I have noticed that my teaching has changed in how I design lessons and resources for the IWB. For example, our students have a sequence of lessons to complete in order to earn their “Laptop Learner’s License” as part of our 1:1 program. The lessons are described on a full page, complete with learning intentions, success criteria, and instructions to specific learning activities which sometimes include links to images, media, and external links. The lessons have been designed so that if students are away and miss a lesson, or if the lesson is incomplete, they can complete the lesson at their own pace in their own time. Writing the instructions and designing the lesson so students can independently go through the lesson process with minimal need for adult intervention has been challenging! I think this is a good thing, as it forces us to ensure that lesson’s are clear and they have an explicit purpose, including an objectives and assessment means. Not to mention that it is available for everyone to access in one central location!

Which platform are you using for your VLE?

Web2 course M9: Twitter, the PLN of choice.

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider how social networks could be used for personal and professional (educational) purposes; including Second Life, Facebook, Linked In & Twitter.

Another popular platform which I have seen many educators use for professional purposes is Google +. However, my tool of choice, and the tool which has made the biggest impact in my development as an educator, is Twitter. Here is why:

  1. It allows me to tap into areas of education that are relevant to me. A few years ago I used twitter to research current trends in #BYOT and #mlearning for tertiary study. Being able to find people and resources on this topic was invaluable.
  2. It allows me to connect to other link-minded individuals. Like-minded individuals who care about staying abreast with technology and their own educational development. Twitter has deepened my perspective on education and learning, and has connected me to blogs, nings, webinars and new tools that other tweeters share.
  3. It allows for a richer experience at conferences, teach meets, and other networked educational events. Sitting, listening and engaging with educators in a physical sense is one thing. But this is taken to a whole new level when your engagement with others becomes expanded in a digital sense. Being able to follow conference hashtags that one is not even attending is an experience in itself!

 

For me, twitter has impacted me as an educator in a major way since I started using it (@anthsperanza). I can honestly say that it changed the way I think about my own classroom, school, and teaching & learning practises. I am a firm believer in a collaborative approach to education. Twitter has given me access to an amazing network of educators, from all different sectors and walks of life.

Hoping to share my enthusiasm with my colleagues at school, I lead a presentation to staff in regards to twitter and it’s usefulness as a Professional Learning Network tool. There has been some take-up, albeit most of the behaviour seems to be sign-up, follow, lurk, and the odd update here and there (this is fine, as we all need to start somewhere and find our feet). I take comfort in the fact that these educators are starting to embrace the truth  that our profession is not private, and that we don’t improve as individuals unless we share ideas and thoughts, and reciprocate on these.

After all, isn’t this the type of learning that we expect from our students?

In a previous blog post, I asked the question whether educators that are serious about educational technology are willing to utilise digital tools to connect themselves to online networks, to seek and take control of their own learning and development. For me, Twitter has been the perfect avenue.

Below is a list of resources that I think educators would find beneficial if they are looking to build their PLN on twitter:

  • My presentation on Twitter – What’s in it for teachers and why should we care?

http://prezi.com/embed/ee19220aba5bc8414ba0c2f1c99aada426ccdab2/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&features=undefined&disabled_features=undefined

Are you actively building your PLN?

Web2 course M8: RSS

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider how RSS technology can be used to manage the flow of information from the web. It was suggested that we use Google Reader, which is a tool that I have used in the past. Unfortunately, come July 2013, Google Reader will be no more. Despite all the hysteria, and even protests, I think RSS is here to stay a little while longer even if Google has dropped one of their main tools to utilise the technology.

Earlier in the year when it was first announced that Google Reader would be discontinued, I immediately looked into a tool that would take care of my daily RSS feeds. I had been experimenting with Pulse on my Android tablet for some time, but wasn’t really happy with the experience when using it on the desktop via Chrome. I came across Feedly, which happily offered to take all my current feeds from Google Reader by signing in with my google account. The experience was easy and pain free! I am now enjoying my news on feedly, which works well seamlessly on the desktop and across mobile devices.

Other thoughts / musings:

How do you manage your RSS feeds?

Web2 course M7: Social Bookmarking

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider the benefits of social bookmarking tools such as Delicious and Diigo.

I was first introduced to social bookmarking at a Boys and Technology conference many years ago, when the presenter shared a list of resources via Delicious. Since then, social bookmarking has been a game changer for me in terms of how I save, manage and find resources on the web. Prior to social bookmarks, I would save links locally in Internet Explorer in a massive list that was getting increasingly out of control; not to mention making it a nightmare to backup. Slowly but surely I started to transfer my local links to the cloud and I haven’t looked back since. When I need something that I have saved in the past, I know I will have it at my fingertips in a mater of moments via the search and tag tools.

I have used both Delicious and Diigo. While Diigo offers more advanced features like highlighting and adding notes to links, I prefer the simplistic, clean, no-fuss interface of Delicious. For me, it does exactly what I want to use it for…save bookmarks. The other neat feature of social bookmarking is how you can be recommended other links, based on what other people similar to you have been tagging.

I know that there are other educators using other tools like Stumbleupon and Pinterest for managing resources. Two interesting boards that I have found on pinterest lately are Penny Lane’s collection of Daily 5 and CAFE links and Nik Peachey’s collection of educational themed videos (I’ve spent a bit too much time absorbed in some of the videos on there!).

Another tool for bookmarking which I have come across recently is Symbaloo.

As well as another alternative to saving bookmarks, it also appears to replace some of the functions of iGoogle (which is to be discontinued shortly). Symbaloo looks like a good way of visually organising links, or using it as a  dashboard for workflow.

How do you manage your resources?

Web2 course M6: Picasa

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were encouraged to investigate Picasa; a tool available on the Google Apps suite. The official video from Google below is a few years old but still explains the features of Picasa really well:


I must admit, historically I haven’t been a big user of Picasa. If I’ve ever needed to host an image, I would get by with other services like Flickr and Imageshack. I really didn’t see the need to upload personal image albums, but would rather back them up on local storage.

The thing that entices me to Picasa now is its obvious advantage of being linked in with google (and my ever increasing reliance on the google ecosystem!). Now that generous storage is offered, internet bandwidth has increased, and cloud apps are more accessible across devices and platforms, I can see a real merit. Now that I am also creating and sharing more digital content for both professional and personal use, it makes sense to have picasa stream-line my content, rather than having bits here and bytes there.

Being available for Google Education accounts is really exciting me. I think Picasa would be a valuable asset to the children’s tool box in terms of capturing evidence of their learning, and having it sync with their google account and keeping everything in one place. Shortly, we are enabling Google Apps for our students as part of our 1:1 laptop program; and I will definitely be giving some thought to how students can be using this tool to their advantage.

Do your students use Picasa in their learning?

 

Web2 Course M5: Creating and Communicating Online

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to brainstorming and mind mapping tools. These included Bubbl.us, Prezi, and Glogster:

http://bubbl.us/ – I have been using this for several years, and its functionality and user friendliness has improved over time. They really seem to have smoothed out a lot of the bugs which tended to turn me off Bubbl.us sometimes. If you haven’t used it, it’s essentially a straight forward mind mapping tool with a blank canvas. Ideas can be drawn and connected to each other with relative ease, and there are some options to customise aesthetics in changing the colour of the boxes. It’s useful that users can start mind mapping straight away without the need for an account; but if you want students to retrieve work then it’s best to set up accounts. Simple, no-fuss brainstorming.

http://prezi.com – Now this I have really been enjoying. Unlike Bubbl.us, you can include a wide range of media including images, video, and documents. You can also draw shapes or free hand objects. In a nut shell, it’s a truly creative digital platform! As well as a great way to brainstorm ideas, it is also a powerful presentation tool. One of the drawbacks is that you do need to signup to start using it. Disappointingly,  it has been without Android support for some time as well. However, it has a really useful desktop editor that can be used when making larger presentations with richer content (this way it isn’t so picky about having a solid connection to the web).

Below are two presentations that I have given to staff on the Prezi platform:

The first is about Twitter and it’s usefulness for educators
http://prezi.com/embed/ee19220aba5bc8414ba0c2f1c99aada426ccdab2/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&features=undefined&disabled_features=undefined

The second is a report into 1:1 computing (this was at the stage where we were conducting our research before implementation).
http://prezi.com/embed/83eaab4cf58327bb2e070defa103a9d745aa9ce0/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&features=undefined&disabled_features=undefined

http://www.glogster.com – I haven’t spent a great deal of time with Glogster, and I have my doubts about using it with a large number of students. On occasions where I have used Glogs as introductions to topics, a lot of time is spent waiting for all of the content to load. Like Prezi, Glogs can also support a wide range of media. However, I feel that Prezi does a better job at compressing and syndicating the content for viewing. In exploring Glogster, I stumbled upon a fantastic article on Read Write Think about teaching with glogster, and is well worth a look.

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As well as the 3 above mentioned tools, there are a few other goodies in the toolbox when it comes to creating and communicating online:

http://www.exploratree.org.uk/ – As well as a blank canvas, exploratree offers templates such as PMI and SWOT organisers.

http://sketchboard.me – A recent favourite of mine, think Google Docs but for sketching! It allows users to simultaneously draw away on a blank canvas. Or you can select from flowchart and schematic symbols from the menu and build diagrams that way. Very cool.

http://www.gliffy.com – Is another powerful platform for drawing diagrams, and has a lot of functions under the hood. Loving the integration with Google Apps.

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So there you have it, 6 awesome tools for creating and communicating online.

And while they are awesome online tools, I don’t think we should give up on paper and pen just yet! You need not look any further than Paul Foreman’s work: 

 He has a really useful guide to mindmapping which I use with my students all the time. I await the day where an online tool can match the creativity and originality of a hand drawn mind map. Sometimes it’s worth putting the computer away!

Which tools do you find most useful for creating and communicating in your classroom?