You know that feeling when you think things aren’t happening, but then all of a sudden you realise that your efforts are starting to pay dividends? Well, that’s what’s happening at my school (Toorak College) now. I feel like we are making inroads. Kids are using Nings and Wikis and it’s becoming the norm. There isn’t the questioning that used to come with the introduction of new ideas. Teachers are starting to take on board what I’ve been rabbiting on about and they are seeing how effective the learning can be using collaborative tools.
Liana Gooch teaches at my school and was part of our PLP group. Here is her guest post. Take it away Liana!
Coming from a country in which bush fires do not feature as a significant hazard as they do in Australia, the events of February 7th 2009 have left an indelible mark on the memories of myself and my students. It was extremely heart breaking to view the images of destruction and loss experienced by those people involved in the Victorian Bushfires. As well as the human cost, it is also essential to consider the havoc wrecked upon nature. A lot of creatures were helpless to escape the fury of the flames and many that did manage to survive have suffered immense injury.
When it came to consider a unit of study related to endangered species with my year 7 Humanities class, I was determined to create a research unit that was not only compelling but also relevant. Students would usually choose to explore overseas endangered species but coverage of the Victorian Bushfires’ impact upon many already endangered species alerted me to taking a more local focus. In the back of my mind I also was concerned about the potential lack of knowledge regarding their own state’s endangered species. My suspicions were confirmed when I surveyed the class about identifying the state’s animal symbol, the highly endangered Leadbeater Possum – only one student was able to identify it. Thus, the inquiry ‘ How can we protect our backyard?’ emerged.
Another focus of this inquiry project would be to expose students to a range of technological tools that would be easily transferrable across their range of subjects. Working with Jenny Luca and Megan Davies, we decided that a wikispace would be an ideal medium for students to post and convey their research to the rest of the world. While the students knew I would be assessing their page, they knew that this inquiry was going to have to be authentic due to the wikispace being open to the public. Students were taught how to manipulate many of the tools available on the wikispace and a lot was learnt through the process by trial and error. As students were working collaboratively it made sense to use Google Docs which allowed students to simultaneously work and edit a written piece together on different computers. It also eliminated the age old problem of when students are absent and have the written piece with them thus hindering a group’s progress. This tool proved invaluable and it has been exciting to observe students use this tool for other projects since this inquiry. Jenny also taught the students about a range of websites where students would be able to use copyright free images for their pages. Another skill gained was the ability to write comments using the pins of Google Maps. One student produced her own clip of a journey through the affected Kingslake area and used voice thread to create her own commentary. Students found the application of technology to be an effective tool which made the learning process a lot more interesting. ‘It is a lot of fun and instead of being boring the work was challenging and interesting so it made it a lot easier to work. It is a great way to become more familiar with internet tools and skills.’ (Hayley)
I wanted students to actively engage with concepts we had explored earlier in the unit related to sustainability. Students were initially exposed to Dr Seuss tale of ‘The Lorax’ which made many of the complex components of sustainability easily attainable. A reflective component of their inquiry which would test their understanding of some of the big ideas would require them to reflect upon how the Lorax would perceive and comment upon the causes and effects of the Bushfires as well as the ensuing actions to reduce their impact. Following through the list of aspects to be explored students would be able to explore a range of both primary and secondary resources ranging from newspaper clips, you tube videos, podcasts from experts and contact with applicable organisations. Students constructed questions to inquire about the actions taken by their selected organisation’s actions to assist with affected animals. Many students were extremely excited about receiving information directly from organisations especially when a lot of the information could not be directly found in the range of resources available online or otherwise.
The inquiry took about three weeks in total during which time students were completed engaged and engrossed in their research. There were several occasions when it was actually difficult to get the students to stop working! It took considerable time to do my initial research and creation of the inquiry assignment. I also had to learn some of the new technological tools before I could launch the project, however the benefits of undertaking a project with which many of the students were so connected were immense. Their understanding of endangered species in their own backyard and the critical role that humans play has been significant. ‘it shows that we have to be aware of sustainable development and reducing our resources for the future. The Victorian Bushfires has decreased the amount of trees, land, homes and animals, and that reduces many resources for the future.’ ‘This project has made me think about animals in a completely different way then I had before.’ Rather than just producing an assignment which would only be viewed by the teacher, themselves and family, Students were courageous as they gallantly rose to the challenge of creating commentary which was up to scrutiny by the public. It was also extremely encouraging to hear students comment about taking social action as a result of this project. One student has become involved in adopting a koala and to date, our class are considering fund raising to either help adopt an endangered animal or contribute to a wildlife fund. Another student is starting to consider a career path related to the care of injured animals. To me, this is what learning that is inspiring should be all about – making authentic, meaningful and relevant links to the world around us.
Well done Liana and well done Year 7. You’ve created a rich resource for others to use and you’ve learnt some new skills in the process. Make sure you visit their wiki.
On Tuesday evening I put out a tweet on Twitter asking if anyone had a connection to Mirka Mora. My daughter was doing a project based on her life and she would have loved to get the opportunity to interview her. Lauren O’Grady saw my tweet and retweeted it to her network . Lauren has extended her network beyond education and it didn’t take long for a response to come my way. Gina Milicia is a professional photographer who knows Mirka and she let me know that she would talk to her and be in touch.
Wednesday morning Gina rang me to tell me she had spoken to Mirka and she would be happy to speak to my daughter and the other girls who are completing the project with her. Both of us marvelled at the power of the Twitter network to facilitate something like this. We both agreed that there is something special about the people there; a willingness to help one another out. It’s a bit like my neighbourhood when I was growing up; people would pitch in to support one another. Twitter feels like that to me.
I rang Mirka and set things up for an afternoon phone call interview. The girls were thrilled. They never expected that they would be actually talking to the subject of their research. We decided we would use the loudspeaker function of my phone and a voice tracer device that would record the call and enable it to be downloaded as an MP3 file. I’d informed Mirka of this and she was happy to have this happen.
1.30pm came around and the interview took place. All of the girls asked questions and managed to draw out answers that related to their theme of triumph over adversity. Mirka is a very interesting and generous person. She’s an artist who migrated to Australia as a young bride from France after the Second World War. She is Jewish and related to the girls her experiences avoiding internment in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
When the girls had finished with their questions I got back on the phone to thank Mirka. She relayed to me how honoured she was to have them use her as the focus of their project and remarked on how they had asked very astute questions. She then said she would like to invite them to afternoon tea at her place as a way of thanking them! We set a date and the girls will be visiting Mirka next week.
How’s that! Pretty amazing really. A tweet goes out, it gets a response, and our students find themselves having the opportunity to meet with the person they have chosen as their object of study for their inquiry week project. We are fortunate that Mirka is such a generous soul.
I have to say I’ve been impressed with my daughter’s skills over the last couple of days. Her group set up a wiki for the project. They wanted to embed the MP3 file of the phone conversation. We were trying to figure out how to get it uploaded to the wiki when she came up with the idea of uploading to YouTube. She tried that but the file wouldn’t process. She then made a Photo Story and used the file as the audio track. This successfully uploaded to YouTube and she was able to embed it in the wiki. Here it is;
She must be learning a thing or two from her Mum! She’ll be teaching me soon at this rate.
If you’d like to, take a look at their wiki . They’d be thrilled to see some dots on their Clustrmap.
I love Ning. I really do.
I’m just not all that happy with them right now.
Those of you who follow this blog will know that I started a Ning for our Yr 9 English classes in February this year. It’s been fantastic. A true learning community has formed and it’s become embedded into the fabric of our Yr 9 curriculum. I’m loving the engagement that is possible and the way I can connect with students who aren’t in my actual class. Just tonight I was showing it to parents at our Parent Teacher night. All were impressed and could see the benefits to student learning that this environment promoted. I asked Ning to remove the ads before the students had even joined and they were happy to oblige.
I also help to run Working together 2 make a difference, a Ning site that encourages educators to come together to share their experiences with service learning projects. Once again, I asked Ning to remove the ads and once again, they were happy to oblige.
Last week I had a moment to savour. Yr 9 students who actively engage in our English Ning came to see me to see if I could help them set up a Ning for their Sleepout 4 Schools initiative. They’d figured out that Ning was the best platform for them to engage the wider community in what they are doing. Sleepout 4 Schools is a school project involving our Yr 9 students; they are holding a fundraiser for our school community on May 22nd in an attempt to raise some money for Daraja Academy and the Bal Ashram in India. The students are working very hard to plan an evening where we will sleepover at school, have fun, skype with Mark Lukach hopefully and raise some money that will help to make a difference.
We set the Ning up. They are working as administrators of the Ning as well and are excited about the possibilities. They are trying to engage other surrounding schools in this service learning and are using the Ning as a tool for connecting. I asked Ning to take the ads off.
They didn’t oblige.
And so began the email process of me asking (begging really) and them denying. Our most recent email correspondance saw me ask this;
Dear Ning team,
Sorry to continue to dispute this, but it is a direct part of our program and is a vital ingredient in the teaching of our students. We are endeavouring to have our students create positive digital footprints for themselves in safe and ethical ways. Having ads that display free video chats for girls is not what I feel is a good advertisement encouraging safe and ethical use. If you look at the domain names of the members they are all students from our school. We are trying to encourage global involvement with other schools to have them participate as well.
Can I please ask you to reconsider once again.
Reply from Ning was this;
Thanks for the follow-up. Once again, while we definitely respect what you’re doing, this simply isn’t covered by what our program is offering. You’re still welcome to purchase the Go Ad-Free premium service, and you can find more details here:
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to understand how Sleepout for Schools differs from the intentions of the Yr 9 English Ning and Working together 2 make a difference. It’s a school project, set up by and for students. It’s about EDUCATION.
Wikispaces and other Wiki creation companies are friendly to K – 12 education. You don’t have to request that ads be removed; they trust that if you tick that box saying it’s for K – 12 use it will be and a Wiki is provided ad free.
Ning is offering an amazing platform that can be utilised so well in education. Please, those of you making decisions at Ning, think about offering a service for education that will encourage users to explore its potential. We need an ad free service; one that won’t expose students to inappropriate ads that make it hard for us to justify the use of what is an excellent resource in school settings.
Someone sent the link through for Debatepedia on Twitter last week. I can’t remember who it was and that’s a shame because I would like to give them credit for alerting me to this resource. Debatepedia is like Wikipedia – a wiki based resource for debate topics. This is what is written on their main page:
Debatepedia is a wiki encyclopedia of pro and con arguments and quotations in important public debates from around the world. It is considered “the Wikipedia of debate”, helping the world centralize arguments and quotations found in millions of different articles, essays, and books into a single encyclopedia, so that citizens can better understand important public debates and make informed choices. Join this cause and community and become an editor of the site. Your efforts will improve your own thinking and have a major impact on the way thousands of other citizens draw conclusions. Debatepedia is endorsed by the United States’ National Forensic League
It is an interesting resource and one that I think teachers and students in Secondary schools will find useful. A category browser is listed on the main page and you can explore these to see if a topic has been covered. Some topics have received a lot of attention and have quite a bit of detail in the pros and cons but others require more fleshing out. I looked up Environment and Animal welfare and checked out the page for Kangaroo Culling (obviously a topic Australian in nature and something I could look at objectively). I liked the fact that this appeared at the top of the entry;
Editing tasks you can help with:
- The “costs” section of this article needs development.
- More articles against culling should be presented in the pro/con resources section and arguments and quotations should be drawn from them.
Nice to see some recognition of areas needing improvement. In terms of information presented in the pros and cons you get a good rundown of the subtopics of the debate question but some of the information is a bit simplistic in terms of explanation. I would have liked to see more links included to allow students to follow these to verify information. Nonetheless, it would be a useful starting point for students to help them gain some understanding of a topic and introduce them to ideas they might choose to research further.
Like Wikipedia, this is a resource that will require explanation for our students. When I discuss Wikipedia with students I explain how the pages are created and ask students to cross reference information with other sources to verify what they have read. This to me is good research practise for any research activity. Some of the facts about Debatepedea are outlined on their main page;
Facts about Debatepedia
- A wiki just like Wikipedia where anyone can edit and document debates, arguments, evidence, quotes, studies and more.
- 7,134 articles. Debate pages, argument pages (for supporting evidence in the form of quotes, studies, links…), encyclopedia pages, team pages, and organization pages.
- Over 450 existing, well-developed pro/con debate articles from IDEA’s famous Debatabase, written by expert debaters and professionals over the past 7 years (now you can edit them).
- A growing community of 2,207 idebate.org registered users.ain page;
It’s supported by the International Debate Education Association (another resource I was not aware of!) and there are ample opportunities for people to get involved in helping to create pages. For senior students this could be an interesting exercise in helping them to understand how wikis function and to see how they can become creators of content. I read an article today about a professor from the University of British Columbia who had his students write entries on Wikipedia in the hope that their work would be of such high quality that their article would be granted feature article status on Wikipedia. To me, that represents an authentic learning task and is an idea worth exploring.
I like Debatepedia and the ideas behind it, just as I like Wikipedia as a resource for our students. Provided our students are educated about how these resources are put together and they cross reference appropriately I see no harm in using them in our classrooms. I find myself using Wikipedia more and more as the quality of the pages improve with time.
I came across this fascinating presentation via Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen blog. If you’re not reading Garr yet you should be. He’s coming to Sydney in a couple of weeks and I’m hoping to get there to soak up his Zen advice about presenting and engaging your audience.
The video is a Cisco presentation held in Bangalore, India. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, has Marthin De Beer, Senior Vice President of the Emerging Technology group, appear on stage using Telepresence. Marthin was in San Jose at the time and appeared on stage as a holographic image. It’s very effective and opens our eyes to the potential use of technology like this. It would enable us to have face to face conversations, interacting as we would do in any real life situation except for the ability to physically touch the participant.
The Human Productivity Lab explains how they did it;
The Musion display technology is similar to the tech that telepresence provider Digital Video Enterprises uses for their seamless tele-immersion room. A sheet of Musion’s patented, transparent Eye-liner foil is stretched across the stage. The ultra high-definition image of Marthin De Beer and Chuck Stucki are captured in San Jose and the images of the virtual humans are then transported over the Human Network to be displayed in Bangalore.
Imagine the impact on conference participation. Keynote speakers wouldn’t have to jump on planes and travel halfway around the world. You’d just need a venue and your session leaders could particpate using telepresence. I’m going to be watching the NECC conference with interest; I’m not going, but I’m sure that I’m going to feel like a part of the event with participants ustreaming, live blogging, posting detail on Wikis and tweeting what they’re learning to their networks. In years to come will we even have to go to conferences like NECC, or will we be able to have a virtual presence using these new and innovative technologies?
There is a longer version of the Cisco Telepresence presentation that you can watch here. John and Marthin talk of how this technology is going to transform business and the length of time it will take to get product to market. They also refer to the use of Wikis as a mass collaboration platform to enable creativity and innovation. Cisco has an internal ideas wiki that has apparantly led to new innovations taking root.
Watching this has cemented my belief that it is necessary to empower our students with an understanding of these networking tools. We have many wikis in operation at our school now across many year levels. They’re still a new idea for many and some work better than others, but I think it’s essential that our students learn the nature of them and how to utilise them to best effect to benefit all. This is the business model they will be walking into when they enter their working life. Surely they are going to be a step ahead of the pack if they have exposure during their formative years.
Isn’t it our job as educators to prepare them for the future? We need to be making sure our schools are shifting into this 21st century. Let’s use the tools they are going to find when they start their working life. Let’s make school relevant.
Susan Bentley is the eLibrarian at the school I work at. It’s great having her on staff – in her role she is responsible for maintaining our Library’s online presence. I first heard the word Web 2.0 from Susan I think, so I have a lot to thank her for as I now bask in this Web 2.0 world!
Susan has been busy this year creating Wikis for classroom use. We used to create pathfinders to support curriculum – these were static pages with links to web pages and items available in our Library, but no-one could add to the page other than Susan. Now we’ve moved these pathfinders over to Wikis and have been introducing them to staff and students. Two of the best working Wikis operate at Yr 11 for Legal Studies and Literature. In these Wikis students have a page each within the Wiki and use this to post responses and upload interesting links or videos they find. I introduced the Wiki to an International studies class last week and received a wonderful reaction from one of the sudents. I could see her eyes widening as she realised the possibilities of this as a tool for learning. She came to see me the next day for some advice on how to link to her page from the home page. She had uploaded numerous YouTube videos about Rwanda and wanted to be able to share her knowledge with her peers. It was exciting to see her enthusiasm – a great reminder to me as to why these are such enabling tools that should be utilised for learning. She’d even gone home to show her Mother what was now possible. This is girl headed off to Uni next year now armed with a powerful realisation of how to use Web 2.0 for collaboration.
Susan is presenting with me next week and has uploaded a presentation to Slideshare about how to create a Wiki using PB wiki – she has lots of good ideas so take a look.
Right. I need help.
There, I’ve said it. Today I have struggled with how I am going to go about creating a form for our parent community to sign regarding use of what we are calling ‘connective reading and writing’. (Thanks Clay Burell, we stole it from your document that you have available on Google Docs). A supportive staff member put something together meshed from Clay’s document but we feel that it is going to create much more work for us if parents elect to select the provision that says teachers will moderate all comments.
So, I’m putting out the call. If anyone out there knows of a sensible permissions form that explains connective reading and writing in a manner that a parent population will understand, please let me know. I’d really appreciate some guidance here.
George Siemens writes a great blog called elearnspace. It’s well worth reading – it really is an e learning space. A recent post ‘The strength of walled gardens’, linked to an article called ‘The strength of garden walls’ from a blog called A Touch of Frost. Peter Tittenberger writes the blog, and was commenting this day on the use of Wikis in his environment and the way they are set up with participants being invited to join. His comment is that people are comfortable with this set up as it is very similar to the way learning management systems operate. We’re finding the same thing here. Wikis set up using invite keys are a hit because people feel safe with them – the only chance of corruption comes from within the walled garden.
What he said next about the changing nature of our flat world resonated with me;
“Privacy and anonymity are still concerns, but here too, increasingly, many (especially the young) are willing to sacrifice these for the ability to publish, to access information and to connect to others. People are willing to make their lives transparent and give data miners open access to all their online activity, just as Google, Wikipedia, et al have given them open access to information.”
I think he’s right. My students happily contribute comments to this blog but people of an ‘older’ generation seem slightly paranoid about putting their name on something that is open for the world to see. I suppose I am less hung up about offering wikis and blogs on a public platform because I am writing this blog. It is empowering to receive feedback from the outside world and I truly believe that it has improved the quality of my writing. Let’s face it, I probably haven’t written this much since I left college!
I have no idea who may be reading this post, but if you can point me in the right direction so that we can effectively break down our walled gardens I’d appreciate the help.