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– Yoda (Lucas, 2002)
“This is just the beginning!”
– Count Dooku (Lucas, 2002)
I am am verging on Web 2.0 Jedi status.
I can feel the Force.
At times, I think I can control it.
But, at least compared my students, I am in fact still an old Padawan (although not nearly so old as Yoda).
But I won’t be a Jedi Knight in the Web 2.0 realm until I put more of my learning into practice. And if I wish to attain Jedi Master status,
I must take at least one Padawan under my own wing and train him or her in Web 2.0 to a successful Jedi status. Of course, as an educator training but one is not enough.
But, as the Jedi Order noted several times through its long history, training Padawans without any clear direction, purpose, or standards could more readily result in apprentices who fell to the dark side (Wookieepedia, n.d.). Therefore, Jedi Masters must have goals in mind when they use these tools, such as the objectives developed for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework, and teach Padawans to avoid the lure of the dark side by teaching skills of recognition, resistance, and development of their own honourable reputation.
Regarding Count Dooku’s assertion above, he was more prescient than he could know. As Richardson (2010) notes, “we are still at the beginning of a radically different relationship with the Internet, one that has long-standing implications for educators and students” (p. 155).
My EDES 501 Course Experience
Web 2.0 technologies support creative and collective contribution. Additionally, any individual with an Internet connection may utilize collaborative technologies. Professionals, experts, students, and the general public may contribute to content-specific wikis, join social networks, create digital videos and music, contribute to blogs, etc. The results of combined and peer edited knowledge are such that the sum is greater than the individual parts.
– Nelson & Mims (2009, p. 80).
I don’t remember what inspired my initial blog Star Wars writing theme (something I’d read with my boys, I suppose). It quickly occurred to me that as a developing teacher-librarian, I ought to weave literature into my posts as well, and enjoyed the flexibility of being able to use science fiction I found in both literature and filmic formats.
I think the biggest boon to me through this process was learning from the wisdom of many bright lights.
Through feedback from my professor, I was encouraged to connect my blog posts to current issues in my teaching situation (I was already including the hypothetical possibilities) and to reference officially described skills that students would develop by using Web 2.0 tools.
Reading my classmates’ blogs inspired me, for instance, to start my blogs and blog sections off with quotes, and taught me to say something controversial/take someone on if I want my blog to get more attention (I’m a little too chicken to do that, I’ll admit). My classmates provided plenty of other nuggets of wisdom too, such as insight into the concept of “voice” in writing.
Reading “famous” education bloggers taught me ways to engage the reader more effectively, such as asking questions intended to promote critical thinking.
I experimented somewhat with blog “marketing”, noting the effect a Twitter link to my blog had on the number of viewers. Beyond Twitter, my last blog post got the most visits by a magnitude, making me suspect if the notion that “sex sells” was at play here amongst the seemingly majority male edtech crowd with the titillating title of “the hypnotic effect of alien women”. Or perhaps it was my blog’s new (and improved?) visual theme. Or maybe that edtech crowd is really into Star Trek. Votes on this, anyone?
Anyway, my learning curve extended far beyond writing, to include the consideration of appearance and user-friendliness, and, most importantly for this course, how and when to use Web 2.0 tools.
Playing with technology is considerable fun for me, but did try my patience on many an occasion. It was often necessary to find workarounds for the quirks of technologies (such as the WordPress dashboard) and to avoid the “bugs” inherent to trying to work with certain applications in different browsers. I dislike fiddling with text formatting in a WYSIWYG editor, but had to for the most part as my HTML skills are not proficient enough to make my work any faster in an HTML editor (with a couple of exceptions, such as my managing to adjust the font size in this post from the tiny default to something more readable). And, as many of my classmates found, inserting a podcast into a blog is probably one of the more onerous tasks in the Web 2.0 world. Why is this???
My learning required lots of trial and error, and research and inquiry. I certainly had the opportunity to exercise my brain (at the expense of exercising my body, I might add).
Things got faster over time though. I became more proficient at being an online geek, as I found the workarounds that could be applied to subsequent assignments, such as using VodPod to embed multimedia into WordPress. I also began to find a rhythm and format to my assignments, which helped considerably. Here was personal proof positive of the benefits of practice to the learning process.
I did appreciate the opportunity to have a “legitimate” reason to write publicly, although obviously one of the joys of blogging is that many people can and do write for the heck of it. If someone happens upon random blogging and benefits from it, then it is merely an added bonus for the world rather than a necessary outcome.
For me personally though, and I imagine for many students, there is also something quite pleasing about taking the risk to put something out there to find that you have added to the world’s knowledge, understanding, and culture (albeit science fiction culture, in my case). This is even if the “world” is a readership of a supportive spouse and a few classmates required to sup from my brain babble (okay, I got a few more viewers than that – I’m not sure they actually stuck around to read my posts).
One of my favourite elements to this course, other than the playing with technology, was the challenge of weaving sci fi through my blog posts. Coming up with the titles and “hooks” often gave me the most pleasure as this activity provided me with a sense of accomplishment and either appealed to my admittedly dorky sense of humour, or in the case of my more serious connections, provided me with some of my “aha” moments. Examples of these would include global connectivity, inequality of access, and differential learning.
Other important ideas that stuck with me from this learning experience included the notion of implicit (Rosenberg’s, 2010) context, and the importance of not using one tool to the exclusion of others (Poole, as cited in Schulten, 2010) and therefore choosing the right tool for the right job.
One of the most significant issues that came up throughout this course was that of student behaviour and safety online. Richardson’s (2010) and Kist (2010) both deal with this in their books, promoting the education of students by guiding them in real-world (okay, virtual real-world, which is can be real world yet not always entirely – am I actually jacked into the Matrix??? Too confusing…) settings to mitigate the effects of the Internet “Dark Side” on students.
Young Web 2.0 Padawans need to have experience in recognizing inappropriate and potentially dangerous behaviours and should be steeled against poor influences. Anakin Skywalker started his Jedi training too late in life, and as a result he fell for the siren song of the Evil Emperor’s seemingly respectable facade as Senator Palpatine.
In the Star Wars Galaxy, Jedi younglings received training in a protected environment. But as they entered their teens and became eligible (that is, having proved their suitability and readiness), these Padawans were assigned to an individual Jedi Master. They took the training they received as younglings and continued their apprenticeship on-the-job. Their learning became very much real-Galaxy and hands-on, providing them meaningful education and experience, but with adult guidance. It was highly unlikely that many Padawans found their education irrelevant or boring (what with them having to take on Sith Lords and all), and they understood that their contributions were valuable to the inhabitants of their Galaxy.
As educators we can take a similar stance with Web 2.0 tools. When our students are young, we provide them with activities mimicking real (or real, as much as is appropriate) experiences as closely as possible in a closed environment. As students develop recognition of the “Dark Side”, learn control over the Force, and enter an age where they need more independence and a sense of adult-like contribution, we allow them increasing exposure to the inevitably (for positive and negative, but mostly positive in my experience what with the collaboration and connectedness) public nature of modern technologies.
And, even if we might balk at the notion of rigidity in our students’ education, educators and students might emulate elements of (italics mine) “Jedi behavior [which] was rigidly structured to uphold self-discipline, responsibility, and public service” (Wookiepedia, n.d.) when using Web 2.0 tools.
Teacher-librarians have a significant role to play in this education. We might recognize similarities to information fluency within the Jedi “rules of engagement [which] included such notions as understanding the dark and light in all things, learning to see accurately, opening their eyes to what was not evident and exercising caution, even in trivial matters” (Wookieepedia, n.d.).
Whoa. Experienced teacher-librarians are Jedi Masters.
My Chosen Light Saber (er, I mean, Web 2.0 tool)
I was enamoured with quite a few of the tools with which I had the opportunity to play this term. For instance, I’m a fan of Twitter, but really only insomuch as it can take me, via links, to something else. It’s the end game that ultimately appeals to me. And what is my favourite end game, which is at the same time a beginning to all sorts of possibilities? I would have to say that my most recommended tool, for a variety of reasons, would be…(drum roll)…
Open communication guides learners to a deeper understanding of the topic and allows
bloggers to take ownership for their constructed knowledge. Teachers and students can post comments to create a platform for analyzing and synthesizing content. Educational uses of blogs vary depending on the instructional content. Blogs can expand on student collaboration and reflection, allowing for ideas and discoveries to emerge as higher level thinking unfolds.
– Nelson & Mims (2009, p. 83).
Blogs serve a variety of purposes in a flexible manner. A blog is no one-trick-wonder. Not at all. It encourages not just writing, but the creation of content in a variety of media and the sharing of the resulting knowledge effectively and with consequences. Even though that media will probably be created in another kind of application, be it in YouTube or VoiceThread or podcasting, a logical place to put all of this creative expression, reflect upon it, and have others do the same, is the blog.
Blogs allows individuals to learn from others, both by reading blogs and their associated comments, as well as by taking in the comments posted about their own material. Blogs are fantabulous for teachers, as a repository of student work (and as such can act as effective portfolios), a central place for a class to come together and communicate even out of school hours, and as an easy way to track behaviours and contributions. Most blogs also allow for controls in regards to who can view and post what, as well the vetting of potential posts and commentary.
Blogs can be as simple or as complex, as per Richardson’s (2010) continuum, as is necessary for the age-group and task at hand.
And, just as Jedi are able to amplify their abilities and skills due to training during the Padawan-stage, students who write through blogging amplify their understanding of the importance of writing, do it more often, and have a more positive impression of the writing process and even school (Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith, & McGill, 2008; Ramaswami, 2008).
Wikis also fulfill many qualities found in the blog, and they were probably second-runner up, but there is something about blogs that goes a step further. Perhaps it’s the particularly professional, and usually clean look of the blog vs. the wiki, or that blogs tend to do RSS better and format posts according to date with the click of a mouse. For my current needs at work, I’m looking at a hybrid by using Google Sites to create my library website (see my wiki post), a project which I hope to really start properly soon, now that I am fairly Web 2.0 proficient. While I don’t find any of the themes nearly as professional looking as those in WordPress, they do offer me more layout flexibility and an opportunity to make the site look really spiffy on my own, given time. And, I can take advantage of its hybrid qualities to have wiki and blog-based foci.
Another little trick with Google Sites that I don’t think I could pull off with a blog application is that a Google Site can be duplicated. One site can set up so that it is private and the other public, since one Google Site cannot have both public and private pages at this stage in the game. Links on the side bar of the main site (or anywhere) can be linked to pages on either the main site (which, say, is set publicly) or the duplicated site (which is set as private, requiring permission to view and perhaps edit), depending on the requirements of the page and the school group using the page. It all looks like one site though. A Google Site can be duplicated too in order to have different themes on different pages. I guess much of this can be done too if you’re a handy coder, but if you’re not, site duplication is the way to go.
“Think you the relationship between Master and Padawan is only to help them? Oh, this is what we let them believe, yes! But when the day comes that even old Yoda does not learn something from his students-then truly, he shall be a teacher no more.”
―Yoda (Wookieepedia, n.d.)
Our school, having adopted Google Apps for Schools, will be providing our students integrated access to Blogger.
A number of our teachers have already starting to adopt blogging, on at least some level of Richardson’s (2010) blogging continuum. Therefore, what more could I possibly offer them if blogging is to be my initial focus? Plenty. For instance, I could certainly assist them in determining how best to use blogging for their particular activity, as well as help them to develop activities and provide for them examples of blogging/appropriate use agreements, and the like. I can find relevant blogs for topics being covered. I can teach students information fluency skills such as being able to determine the validity and relevance of a blog site that may be used for research. I can work with teachers and students in moving them along the blogging continuum over time. I can also show them how they are fulfilling curriculum requirements as they use this tool, be they provincial or International Baccalaureate learning outcomes, or the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (the possibilities are endless in terms of using blogs in some way, even as a mere backdrop, to cover these latter learning outcomes).
Teachers at our school have a legitimate concern: if each teacher requires that students blog, won’t the kids get sick of it and not be motivated by it anymore? I thought further about this though, and realized such a situation would probably still be a step up from having students writing in their binders all the time, which, as far as I’m concerned, are merely an “old school” (and not the good sense of the term) log. Therefore it would be incumbent upon me to help teachers find ways to use blogs in a more diversified manner.
One example of what teachers could do with a blog would be to reflect on a project that was created using either “old school” or Web 2.0 tools. Students could post their project (including scanned, photographed, or videotaped work) for feedback from a select few with private access, or the public. The next step would be to have students provide contextualizing and supporting/evidence links as they explain their posted work. They would also do the same within comments they make on classmates’ work.
Of course, a concern I have with blogging is that merely linking to material is not the be all and end all of supporting one’s arguments. First off, blogging proper is not the only kind of writing students should practice, although it clearly has its place. Therefore, after students have taken the initial steps to provide supporting links to contextual information, the activity can then be broken down (even offline) to taking the information from some of the links and practice paraphrasing it, quoting it directly, and synthesizing ideas properly, with required citations and the like. This experience too could be posted on the blog (even if it isn’t blogging in the commonly understood sense) as part of their portfolio: their learning and improving ability to support their ideas and use referencing appropriately is documented, and can be compared to later (and earlier) attempts at the same. Not very bloggy, but definitely portfolio-oriented.
In order to take such work to the final level of Richardson’s (2010) continuum, a student blog must build upon previous work and feedback. An example of how this could work is with novel studies/literature circles. Students could build upon each assignment and associated blogging, over the course of a term, year, or perhaps more, to reflect an increasingly sophisticated understanding of literature-based concepts and learning outcomes. At a very practical level, they also could serve to provide excellent review materials for examinations and other types of summative assessments.
Really, such increasing depth is to the goal of any subject. I believe that my experience blogging for this course backs up the effectiveness of using blogging to build upon and develop knowledge at increasing levels. It is a complex yet highly useful method of reflection, and, as a learner, I have every intention of referring to my work at later dates to remind myself of Web 2.0 ideas. Some commentators have also provided for me food for thought, which is rare in conventional reflection methods.
As an educator, I hope eventually to take my Web 2.0 creativity and innovation to Jedi Master heights. As Richardson (2010) points out, “in reality, we now have a Read/Reflect/Write/Participate Web, one that will continue to evolve and grow in ways not yet thought of…”(p. 155).
The stuff of science fiction, now my reality…
Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom: Teaching in the new media age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Lenhart, A., Arafeh, S., Smith, A., & McGill, A. R. (2008, April 24). Writing, technology, and teens. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Writing-Technology-and-Teens.aspx
Lucas, G. (Producer/Director). (2002). Star wars: Episode II – attack of the
clones [Motion picture]. United States: Lucasfilm.
Nelson, J., Christopher, A., & Mims, C. (2009). TPACK and Web 2.0: Transformation of Teaching and Learning. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 53(5), 80-87. doi:10.1007/s11528-009-0329-z.
Ramaswami, R. (2008). The Prose (and a Few Cons, Too) of Blogging. (cover story). T H E Journal,35(11), 21. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Richardson, Will (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Wookieepedia: The Star Wars wiki (n.d) Retrieved December 4, 2010, from http://starwars.wikia.com
Rosenberg, S. (2010, September 2). In defense of links, part three: In links we trust [Web log post]. Retrieved from Wordyard: http://www.wordyard.com/2010/09/02/in-defense-of-links-part-three-in-links-we-trust/
Schulten, K. (2010, May 3). Is PowerPoint in the classroom ‘evil’? [Web log post]. Retrieved from The Learning Network: Teaching and Learning with the New York Times: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/is-powerpoint-in-the-classroom-evil