Power of Wikis Example

Mrs. Owens, one of our digital interns, is just beginning her use of technology in the classroom as she moves into her internship. One of the first tools she’s used in her Grade 8 classroom is a wikispaces wiki.

Mrs. Owens’ first assignment was based around the phrase “what I know is …”, a fairly simple assignment where these Grade 8 students were asked to share their experiences. Expectations were a bit low for the assignment, but the resulting writing blew us all away, both in the amount and depth of the writing.

Here’s one particular passage of note:

What I know is that life is rough. I am only fourteen, but have already overcome a lot of things that most fourteen year olds have yet to experience. Like having my mother pass. Like being forced out of my own home. I am officially alone. The fact of having life thrown at me in one shot at a time. The fact that I am alone I am happy I can’t tell you why. I can’t honestly say the reason of who or what I have in this world. But make sure to make up for your mistakes and life will be allot easier on you. I can not tell you the reason god is being so hard on me but if the people I lost were meant to pass than that is what he wanted that was his plan. Well all I know is that like takes it’s toll and times it can be hard and you and you wont understand but if you live for the moment your life will never end. The experiences i have been through are some no teenager should ever go through this is why I say life can be as hard a a rock or easier than anything before. That is why I say life is what you make it so make it better than ever before. Sure I have not been through everything that is going to happin to me but I sure have been through allot some hard some even worse but no matter what happens to me. I will always be myself.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable, but certainly not surprising, is that (as reported by Mrs. Owens) the students really gained interest and became motivated when they were told that their writing would be shared by a world-wide audience.

I don’t believe this will be surprising to any one reading this either. However, here’s another story to share for those that have not yet come to see this for themselves.

Let Milo Open The Door

I put this on Youtube a couple of weeks ago, but others have asked me to share this on my blog. To make a long story short, we have a cat name Milo. My three year-old daughter Raine misheard the lyrics to a classic song, and has been singing it “her way” ever since.

Barriers to Integration: A String of Microsoft Technology Issues

I admit it, I’m biased, I’m spoiled by my Mac. I prefer to do all of my daily work on either OS X or Ubuntu Linux. Yet, when I walk into my teaching world, I get to experience the joys of the Windows environment.

My students, preservice teachers, will enter into a variety of computing environments. In Saskatchewan, we have some school divisions that are primarily Mac environments, some that are heavily IBM/Windows schools and we even have a few Sun Ray (thin client) divisions. Most of what I teach is either cross-platform, or platform-insignificant. Good pedagogical principles do not discriminate. But then, once in a while, I run into one of these days. Here’s what we tried to accomplish.

My class attempted a fairly simple activity. We are entering into a digital storytelling unit and we are using various tools to digitize stories. For the first activity, I’m taking my inspiration from Dean Shareski as we are putting together a simple “Mastercard” type commercial using Microsoft Photo Story. Here’s Dean’s example.

The process was supposed to work like this.
1) Create video in Microsoft Photo Story 3.
2) Save as .wmv file.
3) Upload to Youtube
4) Embed video into student blogs.

These are the issues we ran into:

Issue #1: The .wmv that was produced by Photo Story was rejected by Youtube. I read around, received some advice on Twitter and it seemed the that only solution was to re-render the file in another program. As I focus on free, widely-accessible tools, I chose Windows Movie Maker, a program I’ve never been really fond of, but figured it would work.

Issue #2: When you resave the file in Windows Movie Maker, the .wmv file is actually accepted by Youtube. However, for some odd reason, most of my students ran into an issue. When rendered in WMM, the beginning of the video appeared dim, and parts of the end were cut off abruptly. To get around this issue, I asked students to create a short title frame and end credits for each video. This seemed to solve the issue. Videos were sent to Youtube, and everything seemed to work so far.

Issue #3: Embedding videos into WordPress was a success, but only for some of my students. For others, the embed code didn’t work and was revealed in plain text on student blogs. The difference? Students that were successful were using Firefox, students with the technical issue were using Internet Explorer 7. Once students used Firefox, no further issues.

In summary, Microsoft tools provide a wonderful learning experience if the point of your learning is “getting around technical issues caused by really crappy software”. I think my students actually got to see real-time problem solving with technology in classrooms, and ways of getting around issues. This will certainly be common for many of my students. However, that wasn’t the intent. I was just looking for a simple way of using common, free Windows-based tools to publish stories. It eventually worked, but not nearly as well as it should have.

I’m looking forward to moving to both Mac, Linux and web-based tools to accomplish the same thing. I’m almost certain we won’t see nearly as many issues.

Moodle Glossary Tool for Creating Rich Student Profiles

I’m still really liking Moodle. I’ve set up my own installation and I love the freedom this gives me to set up courses quickly and experiment with functionality.

However, the one feature that I think needs improvement is user profiles. I was hoping that I could have my students put together a fairly rich profile (bio, photos, links, etc.) and have this accessible to other students. Basically, I wanted a way for students to get to know each other, and an easy way for me to get to know the students.

So, here’s my story story and how I found a decent solution. I’ll keep the explanation simple.
1) I twit my problem.
2) Durff mentions that Jim Gates will speaking about Moodle on It’s Elementary Live (EdTechTalk).
3) I forget about it for a few days.
4) Luckily, I see a reminder from Durff.
5) I listen online pretty much at the exact moment I need. Jim talks about how he uses the Glossary tool in Moodle to accomplish something very similar.

So this was the solution. Basically, all I did was add the glossary tool to Moodle. If you are familiar with Moodle, this takes about 5 seconds to do. Just go to “add an activity”, choose glossary. So students in my class each filled out this “student glossary” with their profile information. They can include links, photos and other multimedia. Nice feature.

Then, a nice touch is to add a “Random Glossary Item” block to the side bar. So, everytime you go to the Moodle main page, you will see a random student profile featured. Overall, this fix will do a nice job of accomplishing my original goal. I just introduced it to my students today, but I it’s been well-received so far. Now, I’m waiting for their input.

Here’s a quick Jing video to better illustrate what it looks like.

Powered by ScribeFire.

A Full Plate of Exciting Projects

It’s already an incredibly busy semester. Here are a few of the projects underway.

ECMP 355: I regularly teach an undergraduate course to preservice teachers focused on the integration of technology in teaching and learning. I’ve taught it since 1999, and I can’t believe how much it has changed. Originally, we focused so much on user-centric apps, presentation tools, MS Office productivity tools and flat HTML web resources. Today, the social/semantic web is a key focus. I promote the plethora of free, open and social tools available to students. Students are able to collaborate with others, and with each other. Blogs, wikis, podcasts are common resources.

Some things haven’t changed much though. Electronic portfolios have always been an important part of the course. Only the methods in which they are created has changed. The same goes for digital storytelling, a mainstay in my course from the beginning. And most importantly, critical technology and media literacy remains a common theme that binds the entire course.

This year, I’m happy to announce plans to collaborate with Darren Kuropatwa’s highschool students. Mentoring and collaborating with high schools students from a distance will be an incredibly powerful and meaningful activity for my preservice teachers.

If anyone’s interested in checking out the ECMP Moodle site, go here, but you’ll need to get the passphrase from me.

EC & I  831 Graduate Course – Open, Connected & Social in Education:
I am currently developing an online Graduate course to be offered Winter 2008. The course will focus on the open and social technologies in the classroom and appropriate pedagogies in the connected age. Rob Wall will be helping me develop this course, and I’m already excited to have his input. He’s got some great ideas, and I think this course will be the best I’ve offered. I’m excited. If there are people out there that would like to be a part of this experience, I’d love to have you participate. I know I am going to rely on the edublogosphere a great deal for this course to be a success.

Digital Internship Project: We have chosen 34 interns this year to be “digital interns”. These students are provided with a laptop, other special equipment, edtech-related professional development and specialized support during their internship. The students are part of a Ning virtual community, and have just begun to share their stories and successes. I’m looking forward to seeing these students become excellent teachers and gain wisdom in the use of technology in teaching and learning. We hope that this experience will allow these individuals to become educational leaders in their future schools.

If you would like to see what’s going on, or join us, come to digitalinterns.ca.

Good Spirit School Division EdTech Projects: I’m also working with the teachers of Good Spirit School Division. There is a very keen interest in improving educational outcomes in the division, and educational technology is one of many thrusts to achieve this. This project is in its infancy, but good things are beginning to happen.

aTEPnet: There are many aboriginal teacher education programs in Canada. These programs are doing wonderful things for aboriginal education, but there is not much of a connection between these programs. The Canadian Council on Learning has funded us to help develop an online social network (aTEPnet) that will connect ideas and individuals across these programs.

Web-Based Learning Resource Development Evaluation: Saskatchewan Learning has funded the WBLRD project in the province since 2000. This project has given teachers time to develop rich web-based resources for the benefit of themselves and other educators in the province. We have been contracted to evaluate these resources, the value of the process and provide direction for the future funding of similar projects. Stay tuned for the results later this year.

Looking at this list makes me a bit overwhelmed. Yet, I’m realizing how much the “network” comes into play into just about everything I am doing these days. This is the biggest change to me, and the change that has made the most difference to me in my own learning, my teaching and my educational philosophy.