Where to begin, where to begin? How about, Once upon a time . . . I guess that's a little overused. If I reflect on my learning in this course, however, it does feel that it may have begun that long ago. It is hard to believe that it was only a short four months ago that I was really excited to begin my exploration of Web 2.0 Tools and begin "playing." It wasn't long until I realized that my definition of "play" turned out to be quite different than Joanne's thoughts of "playing." Of course, upon reflection, the discrepancy was a good thing. I would not have learned near as much about Web 2.0 tools and applications if I had continued on the journey of what I considered "playing." I'll admit, there were times I didn't think I could "reflect" on my learning any further. Most of those times of frustration and feeling overwhelmed were combined with and a result of busy work or family life or family illness! I do realize the importance of reflecting on your learning for further growth, but it was a good experience, even better reminder, for me to relate to how students may feel throughout the school year. It has been a long time since I graduated from University and you do tend to forget how anxiety and procrastination can effect you mentally and physically.
I went back to my very first blog post, the Introductory Post, to see what I had written. The first thing I noticed was how short it was! My first sentence was, "I have created this blog as a course requirement to explore, learn, reflect upon and assess tools of Web 2.0." Did I succeed in exploring, learning, reflecting, and assessing Web 2.0 applications? Yes, I think I did. I know that I may have just skimmed the surface on some, but I also delved a little deeper in those tools I found I connected with and was quite engaged. As Joanne had mentioned early on in the course, the Web 2.0 tools that we were going to be exploring were just a small percentage of what's available online. I would like to thank her though, for choosing the tools she did for us to explore, because I believe all of them are tools we could implement into our classrooms, libraries, and schools. I look back at our second week of this course and found that I had, "Created a blog, figured out what 'RSS' stands for, listened to a podcast, signed up for Twitter, and found a better way to describe to family and friends what Web 2.0 really is." Wow, doesn't that seem like a lot for the second week of classes? All of those things were brand new to me at the time. I can understand now why I had such strong feelings of anxiety and being in completely over my head.
One of the goals I had set for myself back in the beginning was, "To become familiar with and gain the knowledge to introduce, educate, and guide students through the implementation of the Web 2.0 tools in this course." I definitely had the opportunity to familiarize myself and gain enough knowledge to feel comfortable incorporating most of the Web 2.0 tools within the classroom or library instruction period. I can envision creating a classroom blog as probably one of the first journey's I would take with students. After creating a blog, where that blog is kind of like 'home base,' then the opportunities and options are seemingly endless. A blog would be a wonderful place to showcase students' written work and mulitmedia presentations such as podcasts, slideshows, videocasts, voicethreads, wordle, and so, so much more. Looking back on our discussion of the blogosphere, moving from simple blogging to more complex blogging, reminded me of some important points we made when blogging with students. I referred to a study from the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, about Blogging in Higher Education (April 2008). Although it was based on students at the college/university level, the four important points recognized by students for them to be successful at blogging were the perceptions and need for audience, community, comments, and the presentational style of their blogs. These aspects of blogging would be necessary to consider at any level of blog creation and was a short, but effective list I remembered and will stay with me.
Learning From Others
Sharonnette's inquiry question from that discussion, "How can we engage students into creating blogs that will provide more authentic learning experiences?" also initiated an interesting discussion on blogging with students. I remember that her and I had different thoughts on the purpose of our blogs for this course, and looking back, rereading our conversations is where some real learning was taking place. Sharonnette and I often had very different views on topics, which I always looked forward to because I considered issues from a different view point than what I would have normally. I respect her honesty and intellect and the biggest thing I learned from Sharonnette was the way she tended to look at topics from a wholistic, spiritual view which was very different from my practical, sequential views. It was a good reminder that as educators we do have to look at the whole child and what individual students bring to the classroom environment.
Annabelle and I shared similar views on many topics and issues that came up in our blog posts and group discussions. We had parallel thoughts on ways of integrating some of these Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom and library, and we also conveyed analogous feelings of implementing humour into educational settings. In our second discussion about personalizing our spaces on the web we had a great conversation regarding the use of humor with staff and students. Annabell wrote, "It is so much a part of who I am that I would feel quite 'false' if I purposely avoided humor." That is exactly how I felt when I was writing my blog posts, and in the beginning I really struggled with the question of using humor and it's educational value. Of course, specifically, how its use would be viewed by Joanne. In the end we determined that it was okay to let some of that humor shine through in our blogs and discussions, obviously using some personal judgement, to decide if and when it was appropriate. Annabelle referred to a blog by Jacqueline Zenn that stated, "Celebrate Your Quirks- Everyone has a few odd things about them (or some cases, more than a few). Your quirks are a major part of what makes you unique, so don’t be afraid to let them come through loud and clear in your blog." And if I think of my favourite blogger, Doug Johnson, he does exactly that. Almost every one of his blog posts begins or ends with a funny image with a witty insert that portrays some of his 'quirks' and sense of humor.
Annabelle seemed to be the real "techy" of our group as well. If I did have a problem embedding something into my blog or making it fit, I knew she would have the answer. She helped me find the "Outer Wrapper" to widen my post area on my blog so that the Animoto video I made would fit and she also directed me to the avatar application she used, "Gravatar." I'm hoping that Annabelle will be apart of our Masters cohort, as I learn a lot from her and really enjoy working with her.
Dawn always had the ability to make me laugh - she is very good at describing her feelings using analogies we are all familiar with. I could depend on her to describe my exact sentiments of frustration and anxiety, almost always at the exact same time she was feeling the same thing. I remember one of Dawn's inquiry questions from our discussion on blogging regarding authorship of an idea when posting to a blog. This question and the discussion that followed really stayed with me throughout this course. It's relevance and importance to the blogosphere should not be overlooked. It is so easy now to search and find information on topics and issues online and then use these resources to add to your own thoughts and ideas. The question is, does that initial idea become your own when you make changes and extend it further, perhaps in a different direction? I believe we have to give credit where credit is due, no matter how miniscule we think it may be. Referring to the original author should always be the first course of action in whatever we read, but then the connections we make and the direction we take our focus definitely will be our own. Reading, sharing, commenting, extending, collaborating - isn't this the ultimate goal of blogging? I think it is, and this is why the discussion that resulted from Dawn's questions was one of the best.
Inquiry Questions - Introductory Blog Post
It was interesting going back and reading my initial inquiry questions, the first one questioning the educational integrity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It makes me smile, because I remember writing that and thinking there is no way that I am going to be convinced that any part of Facebook could be educational. I didn't really know much about Twitter then, but I just threw it in there anyways! Of course, over the last few months, and specifically after finishing the Social Networking Site blog post, my perception of the educational integrity of these sites has definitely changed. After reading Stephen Abram's, "Online Social Literacy," article promoting social networking sites as a new important literacy, I realized it is my job as a parent and educator to teach my children and students about and be aware of online ethics and safety. I remember Abram comparing WebKinz to online "crack" for kids, and that having a fairly profound impact on me personally as my kids used to love playing on WebKinz. Abram made such a good point, noting, "By creating safe places where you need letters from your teacher or parents to get online, or protect kids by narrowing the rules, can kids ever develop the critical thinking about their identity and privacy that will be essential for success in their future?" He had such a smart suggestion, which was to implement levels of online awareness for each stage where we already teach students about themselves, community, and the world. I know his thoughts on promoting awareness of safety and privacy issues with students definitely led to a lengthy discussion with my nine year old daughter and her online persona.
The second question I posed way back in the Introductory Post and something I continue to feel very strong about, is the fact that during these times of technology, library positions are constantly being cut-back or dissolved altogether. To make it clear, when I think of a 'librarian,' I am thinking about somebody who does a lot more than stand behind the circulation desk, checking books in and out and signing Accelerated Reader tests. 21st century librarians HAVE to do more than that - perhaps this is why library jobs began to get cut in the first place. Now, I know some pretty amazing librarians in the Kamloops district that use their library time as "instruction" time, and are implementing Web 2.0 tools within their classes, but, I still also know some librarians who are pretty resistant to making any kinds of changes to their existing library programs.
How do we get administrators, staff, school boards, parents, and the community to see the importance of the library? ADVOCACY! Karen Bonanno, an Australian school library advocate, created a presentation called, "What is Library Advocacy?" (2009). She begins her presentation saying, "Advocacy uses a variety of promotion, public relations and marketing tools in a planned and deliberate way to change perceptions." She's right - we have to fight for our school libraries and librarians before we lose them for good. When I began teaching here in Chase the libraries at the high school and elementary school were the hub of the schools. Students were always in the libraries, using the resources, working on projects - it was the central place to meet. Now, unfortunately, neither school has a qualified librarian, and the high school library especially, seems like a ghostown. It is very upsetting for me to witness the digression of the places and the reason why I am very passionate about making some changes.
SO - my first step on my crusade to "Save the Libraries" and change peoples perceptions about how school libraries can be used, is to follow the advice Bonanno gives on library advocacy. She lists quite a few ideas for Promotion and Public Relations, including: information brochures, posters and signage; web page (both schools have a school web page, not one for the library specifically) to advertise the library; newsletters and reports; and, activities and displays. Why not have an Open House at the library for parents and the community to come in and check out projects created by the students, especially projects where Web 2.0 tools had been implemented. I remember when I created the wiki with my daughter's class how interested a lot of staff were, wishing that I could work with their students on something like that. The more people you get hooked, get on board, the easier it will be to advocate to the admin and school board officers.
While I am busy promoting the library, it will also be important to assess the needs of the school and what they want to get out of the library program. Bonanno suggests using mini-surveys, presenting staff with research, and questionnaires for staff and students. Take a look at what's currently being offered, which isn't much at either school, and work with staff and admin to move the library program in a direction that will benefit everyone. I think making the effort to connect with staff and admin will go a long way in working towards a common goal; the goal being providing success for our students' futures. Building strong relationships with staff will only increase the motivation for collaboration. I believe if we can get staff collaborating and communicating regularly, our chance of creating a 21st century library program may become a reality. Bonanno concludes her presentation with the "Mulit-Sensory Experience," she believes has a strong impact on the success of a library program. What people SEE, HEAR, FEEL, and SAY about the library all, "Influence what people say and think," about the Library.
To save our libraries and library positions I do believe we need to change the role of the traditional librarian. We need to become more of a technology teacher as well as being versed in researching and locating resources. When classes visit the library, we need to be doing more than helping them locate books and information. We should be using that time for library instruction, where we have collaborated with the classroom teacher and we are working towards creating an absolutely amazing project using print material, online resources, and the implementation of Web 2.0 Tools. Even though I absolutely believe in using these new technologies with our students, I do still believe in the power of print. There is nothing like the smell and feel of a good book. So, although I am on a technology crusade, I continue to believe there is an important balance to be kept between print and online resources. Take the time to watch this video, "Biblioburro - The Donkey Library," about a man who delivers books to villages using his donkey. He has made it his personal mission to educate children, teach them their rights and committments, so that their generation will experience something other than war. Be sure to watch it to the end, his passion and emotions are quite empowering.
Where Do I go From Here?
I checked my University Webmail the other day and found a post from an Edublog, Not So Distant Future, by Futura, forwarded by Jennifer Branch. It was entitled, "What Are We Really Fighting For?" (11/30/09). It gave me a lot to think about in regards to what exactly I should be advocating for - the Web 2.0 tools themselves or what skills the students learn by using these tools? The entry talks about wonderful sites like Twitter, Facebook, Animoto,
Voicethread, Delicious, and blogging and the kinds of projects we could create with our students if we (schools) were allowed access to all these spaces, providing the bans and filters were removed or even lowered. Dr. Suess in the Grinch is then paraphrased about what we are exactly fighting for, and I want to quote them here because I don't want to lose any of the impact,
Because after all . . .
It´s not about creating a blog, it´s about expressing your own ideas and beliefs clearly.
It´s not about using delicious or Diigo, it´s about developing a system to keep up with your stuff and to share your stuff.
It´s not about Skype, it´s about understanding how to communicate globally in a video setting or via chat/conversation.
And it´s not about making an Animoto slide show, it´s about having a good sense of design or telling a story.
It´s not about learning to use the software, it´s about the skills our students will carry with them that these tools and others like them allow. It´s about our students expressing themselves clearly, beautifully, and skillfully.
Perhaps, as well as talking about the implementation of Web 2.0 Tools, we should also be connecting how learning about these tools will in fact improve our students abilities to become skillful at, "Expressing themselves clearly, beautifully, and skillfully."
My previous course through the University of Alberta, Inquiry Learning, provided insight into the constructivist theory, which is building new ideas and information from past experiences and existing background knowledge. If we can convince educators that incorporating Web 2.0 tools into the classroom is what we should be doing to continue building upon student knowledge, maybe we will get a few more jumping on board. Shouldn't this be the goal for educators today: build upon our students existing knowledge gained through traditional literacies, by adding new knowledge and forming social online literacies?
Tools I Would Share with Colleagues
I am hoping next fall I will have secured the Librarian position at the Elementary school here in Chase. Unfortunately, the Primary School, which houses Kindergartens through Grade 2 students, will be closed because of cut-backs. It is an amazing building and piece of Chase history and many community members and educators are very sad to see it closed. My daughter was fortunate to attend her primary years there, and my son, in Kindergarten, is lucky to get one year there. From a completely selfish standpoint, because the Primary school is being amalgamated with the Elementary School, the Library position may be re-posted to accommodate the student influx. This is good for me! As it is now, the Vice-Principal is in the library at the elementary school when he has time (hardly at all) and the Primary has no librarian. I know the staff and many parents have voiced concerns regarding the state of the library this year. I am hoping all these factors will result in the creation of a library position. So, if I were to obtain the library position next year these are things I would try to do:
1. Create a Library Blog. As I mentioned previously, I will have to begin advocating for the library and a blog will be a great starting place. It could be linked to the school website for parents and community members to access it. The blog could be a great place to house exciting events and projects taking place at the library and any units done with classes could be showcased on the blog. We talked extensively about the benefits of blogging throughout this course in our blog posts and discussions, so this first step seems to be a no-brainer.
2. Try to Collaborate with Staff and Admin. I will have to make some connections and build relationships with my colleagues - and I know who I would start with! Being in the schools, you quickly learn which teachers would be willing to take the Web 2.0 journey with you, and those who may be more resistant. I would definitely start with those who I know would be willing to join me. Getting the staff involved and asking their opinions on what they want from a library program will also be a crucial step in the beginning.
3. Showcase the Tools. I would like to use staff meetings and Pro-D days to show staff the amazing projects than can be accomplished with Web 2.0 tools. I think you would have to start with tools that are easy to use and where results are immediate and beneficial. Classroom blogs, RSS, Delicious, Voicethread, photosharing, and Animoto are all tools or applications that are very user-friendly and provide positive feedback. As a parent helper this spring coming up, I plan on working with my son and daughter's classroom teachers to create a voicethread project for Mother's and Father's Day. I have talked with both teachers and they are very excited for me to take this on, a Father's Day picture/voicethread with my son's Kindergarten class and a Mother's Day poem/voicethread with my daughter's class. I chose Voicethread because of the impact it had on my family and I, and also the effect it had on the educators in the room in Tracy's Poelzer's presentation on Voicethread that I attended. Everyone was amazed at the final results and talking with Tracy afterwards, she said it was the easiest thing to do and everyone thinks you're a genius!! Why wouldn't I start with Voicethread!
4. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate, and Never Give Up! I know I have a tough road ahead of me, but for some reason, the current state of our library programs, has really fired me up. I'm learning about all these amazing tools and technologies that are the future and NONE of the students here in Chase are being exposed to them. Well, except for the ones that I have worked with on my own time! Technology is the future, those are the facts. If we want our students to be successful in the future we need to start preparing them NOW. Denying that the way students are learning is changing, is choosing to be ingnorant. As Doug Johnson always says, "It will be easier to change how we teach than to change how our students are going to learn." I agree, why fight it?
In the End
Ahh . . . the light at the end of the tunnel! What a feeling of completion . . . well, until January anyways! Joanne - I know you will probably hear this from all of us, but I really have learned more than I thought possible. We covered a lot of ground, and there were times when it felt like too much, but in the end I am thankful for it. I feel I have grown quite a bit as a professional and really am confident that I will be able to pass along what I have learned. So, THANK YOU, and I know our pathes will cross again throughout the Masters program.