PLN Day 34.5: My Definition of a “Good” Wiki Inquiry Project

15 02 2010

So I added my class’s five wikis onto Google Reader.  Who knew I could do that?  I read the wikis and explored some of the links, many of which are amazingly helpful.  I have not given explicit instructions or expectations for how the groups should go about their wikis, largely because this is so new to me that I didn’t know what instructions to give or what I should expect.  I think I have a better idea now after seeing the five groups go about things in different ways.

To review, my class generated questions they had about reading, organized them into headings according to their own powers of discretion, and then went about using their PLNs to get those questions answered.  It could be called a webquest, except that in addition to the web they could use people, books, and anything else to help bring light to their area of inquiry, so it should be properly called a “PLN wikiinquiry.”  Kudos to the whole class for hitting the ground running, and I am happy with all of your progress in this area of great experimentation.

Here is what makes a good wiki inquiry project, in my opinion:

1.   I like how Amber Henry, Brianna Rafferty, Brittany McHale, Laura Young and Rae Thiesen’s Wiki found many resources to explore their questions, as did all the groups, but when you go to their wiki they help you get oriented.  Whenever possible, they give an overview of the important information, and then they might guide you to a link and give you some sense of whether it’s useful or not. Some other wikis just had lots of links, but this gets rather dreary after awhile.  Sometimes I clicked the link and it was a link to NCTE’S homepage, which is the equivalent of asking, how do you solve a differential equation, only to go onto a wiki and having someone put a link to a math textbook.  The information is buried.  Wouldn’t it be better if someone defined what a differential occasion was, maybe gave some examples, maybe something about how to teach differential equations, and then said, it’s all there and more in this link to an online math textbook, if you go to these pages.

2.  None of the groups did a good job of this in my opinion, but a good inquiry should be exploding with new questions, subquestions, problems, related areas of interest, and so on.  The more you know, the more questions you should have.  I would venture that a good inquiry is defined not by the answers it provides, but by the increasing complexity of its questions.

3.  Jessie Bindrim, Colin Hill, Elizabeth Bartles and Lisa Angelucci’s wiki had their categories in the left margin, which aided in navigation.

4.  A wiki should have a specific impossible-to-be-confused-about-what-it-is-about title with your names in an obvious place.

5.  An inquiry should be thorough and rather dogged in its pursuit of resources related to the topic.  (“What is a dog?” should not be accompanied with a link to clip art featuring a dog.  Whew, that was easy, that question is answered.  Of course that’s an exaggeration — or is it? Some of these questions have fifty books written about them and a single blog post is meant to answer the question in its entirety.)  That’s too superficial.  Also, we set up these PLNS and when all of your answers come from you might not be calling on the sorts of experts you need.  Use your resources, and post questions.  In the next ten minutes, you could put all of your ten questions on the English Companion Ning.  In days you would get a dozen great responses.

6.  Mainly, is the wiki useful to you?  To your classmates?  To a teacher you’ve never met? Meaning, can I build on what you’ve done?  If I feel I have to start over and cover the terrain all over again on my own, then your guidance has not been especially helpful. Please remember to leave lots of breadcrumbs and signposts and even reflections so that we know where you’ve been and where best to concentrate our energies. Even moments when you are not sure about something is worth mentioning.  Also, you can say “this question is terrible, it should be phrased as “_____.”

7.  A wiki needs teamwork and communication.

8.  A wiki needs a fair division of labor.  There are ways for an assessor to track participation and involvement.

9.  An inquiry needs a termination date, where you post what you have so far.

10.  A wiki needs a small group (four or five is ideal).

11.  All five wikis can be combined later to make a custom textbook on the subject of reading.

12.  In general, the wiki should be a document worth reading even before the reader clicks any links.  This means you should be doing everything in your power to make things smoother for your reader.

I welcome any additions or amendments in the comments below.


PLN Day 34.2: How I synched my email and updated my address books

15 02 2010

For all of you who are hip to synching email, this will be a big duh.  But it is a breakthrough to me because I worked on two computers every day and repeated email tasks on each computer for years.  So I got an IMAP account at Penn State, and I forwarded all of my email from Yahoo to Google.  Gmail offers IMAP free, and so they win, and Yahoo loses my business after TEN LOYAL YEARS.  Then I have Webmail and Gmail in the IMAP server, which I access through Thunderbird, and I’m linked up at last!  I spent some time this week getting my address books together.  I went around to six places gathering the addresses, downloaded a duplicate finder for Thunderbird, and then when all the addresses were in one place I deleted all the smaller address books, and then I loaded the master calendar on each of my computers.

But why? Why stop everything and maintain a list and download extensions by the fistful?  Was this necessary?

Email and address books are certainly connected to the idea of the PLN because it helps me organize my networks of people.  My Thunderbird and Firefox accounts have a dozen extensions apiece now, but the customization period has drawn to a close.  Though it seemed like a digression, this is part of the process of putting together timesaving systems which will enable me to be more productive from here on out.  I’m becoming unusually productive and efficient as a result of the PLN, and many of these processes may be useful as long as I live.

PLN Day 34: My Definition of a Great Classroom Blog/ Blogpost

15 02 2010

With my PLN over a month old, I used Google Reader to check out each of my students Blogs, and I offered a comment or two on each.   I found that when students are asked to write a Blog for a class, several students went above and beyond, eight more have developed their Blogs somewhat, and yet fully half have not developed their blogs much or at all.  I haven’t been communicating very clear instructions or expectations, because this is so new to me that I haven’t known what those directions or expectations should be.  But now I think I do.  While it is fresh in my mind, these are the characteristics to me of exceptional Blog posts:

1.  They report something (a resource, an understanding, etc.) that is both useful to them and to the class as a whole.

2.  Ideally, the post would appeal to a larger audience, perhaps of fellow teachers, students, and related professionals in the field.

3.  They offer concrete illustrations of things that they find. This might include the use of quotations.  The author might post videos and pictures.

4.  They show the resources and people and experiences that have lead them to the understanding they are conveying, but they do not include disassociated lists of links, but integrate them into the text.  They also do not present links without any prefacing commentary or without explaining in some manner why we might want to click on that link.

5.  They are reasonably well written, meaning that they have an audience in mind and are actually trying to communicate to that audience as effectively as they can.  They are relatively free of errors that are distracting and/or that detract from the piece’s meaning.

6.  A post needs to find its bearings somewhat, to work towards some sort of meaning, insight or understanding.  It is somewhat disappointing to read a Blog where every post exists in a state of perpetual disorientation:  “What is this post?  What is this Blog?  I’m so bad with computers! This is all so new!  Where am I?”  Maybe this is OK for day one, but future posts should show some resilience, and acknowledge that there’s work to be done, and that though cluelessness is often the human condition it shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honor.

7.  Every Blog should be somewhat identifiable in its purpose.  For the purposes of this class, the Blog’s title should include something about PLNS, about English Education, about Educational Technology, or Pedagogy, or some combination of the above, so that if someone stumbled upon it from Denmark they could figure out what was going on at your Blog.

8.  A Blog should be aesthetically pleasing.  At the least, it should have text that is readable without hurting your eyes.

9.  A Blog should be current.  Postings should happen regularly enough to be worth checking into every once in a while.  This is important.  Students are used to big culminating assessments, but I think I might place value on how steadily a Blog develops.  For instance, many (but not all) Blogs in my class were written the night before a specified deadline, and one or no posts followed that.  It’s the ‘wait to be told’ approach that sends up all sorts of red flags with me, and is the sort of thing I’m often tempted to tie the entire course grade to.

10.  Ideally, as is the case with all writing, there should be some commitment on the part of the author to the material, and not just a super safe little jot.  Worse still is a sort of blithe indifference, and of that the worst is trite whining on really obvious topics.  But even this is better than no writing at all.  I have always liked how in Dante’s Inferno he has a group in hell who parade around with signs that say nothing at all, as punishment for their indifference or callow lack of engagement with anything.

11.  The best Blogs don’t make a habit of recycling other Blogs, but go beyond and add something significant to the conversation.  Some Bloggers have a staunch commitment to as much originality as possible, and they see large-scale content recycling as polluting and watering down Web 2.0.

12.  A good blog is in communication with other blogs, and its author comments on other’s blogs and earns comments from others.  Ideally, a blogger promotes the blog to a larger audience that the class itself.

With that in mind, my rubric will be:

A:  Meets or exceeds expectations in areas 1-12.

B:  A good effort, but falls short in a few areas specified in 1-12.

C:  The blog’s outstanding characteristics would include some major shortcomings in areas 1-12.

D:  The blog had few aspirations of any meaningful type, or possessed them for too short a period to be of use to this class and the world of January February March and April.

F:  The Blog could be reproduced in its entirety in several hours.

I’m a big believer in modeling, which is why I am producing a blog alongside you all.  In addition, I will produce some examples.  So far, in our class, I want to call attention to some outstanding Blogs.

Jessie Bindrim’s Blog Let Us Talk possesses many of these characteristics.  She brings interesting resources into the conversation and goes in all sorts of interesting directions.  In addition, she writes with energy and just generally seems to want to communicate her ideas effectively.

Kim Cuppett’s Blog Implementing Technology in the Classroom:PLN’s, Methods, Strategies, and Techniques to Consider is already looking highly professional and is definitely engaging in meaningful and worthwhile conversations about education and technology. Look especially at her post Cooperative Learning:  The Basics.

Laura Young’s Blog Teaching and/or Technology has a lot going for it, and she is finding really unusual resources and making connections in a blog that has been continuously surprising.

Rachel Dabiero’s Blog Rachel Lynne’ Blog: Exploring English Education tends to go a more philosophical or literary direction, which is much appreciated.

Check out Caitlin Mulroy’s Blog caitlin’s PLN blog.  Her latest two posts are outstanding, and she has been connecting with people on the English Companion Ning and has created some really interesting conversations there.

Some Blogs have a post that represents a certain breakthrough, like Ben Craig’s “Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” I could spend the next hour backsearching to include a half dozen other examples of blog posts that had something in them I found useful or interesting, but never fear.  A diligent Blogger will have his/her day.   I promise to digest these Blogs on a regular basis, so keep cranking and a shout out is highly probable in the future.  It’s been an adventure people.  I welcome your comments.

Personal Learning Network Day 21: Customizing EVERYTHING, Our New ReadingWiki Project

2 02 2010

My Personal Learning Network is now three weeks old, and here’s what I’ve been up to.  Warning:  It’s pretty nerdy:

1.  I customized Firefox like crazy, using Tools>Add-Ons, and am currently running Walnut 2 (which makes everything look like it’s made of wood), a Google Tool Bar, Styles (which allowed me to customize Google Reader and make it less generic), plus colored tabs.  A few more.

2.  I like aesthetics, and I wanted to customize OSX to have cooler themes than the generic grey bars everywhere, and I found that there are many custom themes out there, but none that are ready for Leopard.  Magnifique was a free OSX Theme Customizer, but they seem to be discouraged or something.  They released a download, and then they unreleased it.

3.  I decided to figure out how to synch my work notebook computer with my desktop at home, and to find a way to check all my email through Thunderbird 3.0 (which now thanks to Tools>Add-Ons also brandishes Walnut2 and looks COOL).  About this email synching:  It’s a work in progress; I know it’s possible, and when I have done this I will have saved myself considerable aggravation.  First off, apparently last year Penn State began providing free IMAP service for mail (go to that link and request it and in one business day you will have IMAP service.  Readers who don’t attend Penn State, consider Google Mail, which offers free IMAP — which is huge, and all the major providers will be forced to follow suit if they wish to remain competitive in the free email market).  Why would you want this IMAP service?  Because when your email is stored on a server, it can be organized across multiple computers and iPhones and whatnot.  Read your email at work, delete files, send files, and then when you go home and log on from another computer your email is how you left it when you were accessing it from your other computer.  Plus I’m trying to figure out how to get Yahoo Mail to go to Thunderbird as well — I have a ten year relationship with them and employers seem to have this email address for me (and this is where I get invitations to read and score papers mostly — usually this is a very good deal for me, and I’d hate to miss an opportunity) and thus I cannot delete the account.  So either I get my mail forwarded somehow, or get IMAP service, maybe by paying $19.99 a year for Yahoo Mail Plus or use some POP3 emulator (gack), and now I’ve got Thunderbird 3 downloaded for free, and I get my email just fine, but I cannot send email at the moment, which is a tad inconvenient.  Basically, I’m stuck, and now I need an IT person.

4.  The Wikispaces project is up and running.  Here’s how we approached it as a class.  We used Nik Peachey’s “Using Wikis for Teacher Development.” In particular, we were drawn to these suggestions:

  • “You could use it to create your own online course book, either working with other teachers or your class. You could get students to select texts and subjects that they are interested in and type / paste them in to pages on the wiki, you or they could then create learning materials to go with the text, as well as adding extra information and background on the them or topic or the grammar or lexis that goes with the text. You would then be able to build on this with other classes.
  • You set up collaborative assignments such as Webquests and get students to use the wiki and work together to produce their outcomes.”

Because we are in a class whose title is LLED 420:  Adolescent Literacy and Literature, we looked up “literacy” and found some definitions:

Definitions of Literacy on the Web:

Then, as a class, we watched the movies in my blog post about Wikis and decided that the first wiki would be about reading.  Next, after a discussion of inquiry as a method, we spent the better part of an hour writing down every single question we could think to ask about reading, realizing that many more questions would emerge, but we thought several dozen questions would make a good starting point.   Then we set up our wikispaces and titled them and imported the questions from the previous brainstorming.  Then I had students break into groups of four and organize some of these questions by concept on their new wiki.

Next, they divided the categories amongst themselves and their pages began to look something like this (Courtesy Jessie Bindrim, Colin Hill, Elizabeth Bartles, Lisa Angelucci):


How do you teach reading to an illiterate person?
What is meant by adolescent literacy?
What’re the characteristics of a good reader? A weak reader?
What do you do with a class of varying reading levels? (or with ESL students)
How do you teach: critical reading, active reading?
What’s the connection b/w reading & writing?
What are some predictors of success in reading?
What percentage of prisoners is illiterate?
What is Phonics and what is the controversy?
Who are the reading gurus/ leaders in the field?
What is the role of the librarian? What can you learn from them?

Subject Matter

How do you add a book to a HS approved list?
How do you choose a book?
Teaching canons v. contemporary v. multicultural v. experimental v. short stories?
How to teach a novel that uses racist language?
What do you do with parental disapproval?


How do you get a student to actually read?
What do you do about movie versions, Sparknotes, & homework helper sites?
How to get students to participate in discussions about the reading?
How do you make a text relevant to your students?


How do you make accommodations for special need students?
How do you evaluate reading skill & comprehension?
What can you tell by listening to a student read?
How do you determine if an activity or book is grade-level appropriate?
Advantage of teaching shorter/longer books? Drama?
How do you teach a book you’ve never read?
How do you teach new criticism? (conduct reading of a text)
What do you do with poetry? Shakespeare?
Do you have to teach/read a novel all the way through?
To what extent can you have your class reading multiple books at the same time?
Struggling readers & remedial reading courses?
What is a cognitive strategy?

Then they webquested for the remainder of class and reported back to the wiki what they’d found, any additional questions they have, and links and resources that they’d discovered.  Part of their homework for this week was to spend two hours this week on that wiki and develop it.

How’s it going so far?  We’ll see tomorrow, but this week’s blogs are going surprisingly well.  I have them lined all 21 of my students’ Blogs in a folder on Google Reader and check them every day:

From Rachel Lynne (in her blog):  “Last week in 420, we created Wikispaces and used them to form groups that will be used to investigate questions about teaching English.  It was definitely a new experience for me, as I have never before had a Wiki.  I was the one in my group who created it and uploaded our questions–it was quite a challenge for me.  Like I said, I’m terrible with technology, so creating this group Wiki page was difficult for me and outside of my comfort zone. But, after about an hour, I succeeded! I’m still hesitant about using it, but I am proud of myself that my group was able to figure out enough to get the site up and running.  So far, so good, I guess.  We’ll be working in these groups on our wikis all semester.”

From Bri Rafferty’s Blog:  “For my LL ED 420 class, we were asked to form a list of questions we were interested in with regards to reading.  We then were told to break into groups, create a wiki for those groups, and find answers to those questions.  After watching a short video in class, I began to get a better understanding of what a wiki was – like a lesser version of wikipedia, a wiki allows its users to come in and edit content about a given subject.  I’m still trying to think about what the benefit for an individual could be, but for a group the ability to come in and edit one online page together while working toward a collaborative goal seems to really simplify things.  Instead of e-mailing drafts etc, group members have the ability to save changes that can immediately be seen by anyone else with access to that wiki.  I wish I had known about wikis for many of the group projects I had to work on throughout my career as a student – they could have simplified the process so much.”

From Kim Cuppett’s Blog:  “The nerd in me is coming out. Yes, I admit…I think Wikispaces is the coolest thing ever! Obviously, this is my first experience using wikispaces or any type of site like it. Wikispaces makes it so easy to do a project without having to get together in person. Just like the video in Jason Whitney’s blog, by using wiki, it makes planning much more organized between multiple people. Just this morning, before creating this blog post, I was working on our reading questions assignment. After searching for information, I was using the wiki site to post hyperlinks and regular text to answer the reading questions. To conclude, Wiki Spaces: two thumbs up!”

5.  So many thoughtful posts this week — i.e. check out Caitlin Mulroy’s Blog caitfordly yours, the post “Go Small?  Or Go Big?”  But this week’s most inspirational post comes from Jessie Bindrim in her blog Let Us Talk!, in which she describes her arrival at understanding:  “So I just got out of my English 202B class where we’ve begun to read “They Say, I Say” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. The gist of the book is that it is important to recognize in our writing that we are entering conversations that’ve been going on well before we joined and will continue to go on well after we’ve left them. They used Kenneth Burke’s analogy in “The Philosophy of Literary Form” to further this idea. In the middle of our discussion I felt an epiphany come on. You know that exciting feeling when you just know you’re on to something exciting, now imagine trying to contain that during a subdued discussion in a class full of people who would have no idea nor care what you’ve come up with. Alright, I’ll end the suspense. What we do in our classes is dig through old arguments and “conversations” and form our own arguments, referring to these past ones to build our own viewpoint. By creating a PLN, we’re opening the conversation not to just the past, but to the conversations that are going on around us now. The internet has allowed us to not just look at old journals from years past, but to keep up with what is going on now, the new ways of thinking that are changing our field as we take part in it. Having a PLN centered around your field allows you to dig through all the conversations until you find where your specific conversation of interest is going on and “put in your oar”. Though this makes the research aspect of your papers that much more daunting, I daresay it will make the papers our generation produces more complete and applicable than many written to this date. Though I realize I am probably not the first to have this epiphany, I have mentioned before that I like my classes to coincide so the more connections I can draw, the more pleased I am with the semester.”

6.  In addition to blogs and websites about technology and education, I became interested in Productivity Blogs, using a guide to the 50 Best Productivity Blogs at Zen Habits (one of my favorite blogs).  I now have a dozen lined up in a folder entitled “Productivity Blogs” on Google Reader.

Personal Learning Network Day 18: RSS Feeds, Firefox and Google Reader

29 01 2010

As part of expanding my Personal Learning Network, I now draw my attention to RSS feeds and have been researching readers.  First off, it helped me to watch a video, which shows how a little work can make getting news and content on the internet much more efficient, with automatic updates besides:

I had been trying out Sage, which is a lightweight download for Firefox, and there was nothing wrong with it, really, but after researching RSS readers, I found that Google Reader seems to be the gold standard, especially since a recent redesign. I modifed the appearance of Google Reader by installing Stylish and Greasemonkey to Firefox and found a “skin” here that makes the site less generic looking.  It installs easily using a button.  Then you go to the bottom right of Firefox and click the Stylish icon and select it and the whole experience becomes more aesthetically pleasing.

I was surprised at how many add-ons and downloads for Firefox.  One side benefit of building a PLN is that all of these things I’ve been using for years are getting optimized and customized to my own specifications.  I do use a notebook and a desktop computer, both Macs, and I find that once I customize one, then I have to duplicate the process with the other. There might be a way to have everything synch, and I think I gleaned something about that, but for now I do everything twice, once for each computer.

I found this website useful.  Bryan Person describes making the switch to Google Reader:

“Here’s why I decided to make the switch from my longtime RSS reader of choice, Bloglines, to Google Reader:

  • Chris Brogan told me to. Check out Chris’s helpful tips on navigating Google Reader and take a spin through his “power tools” section.
  • Google Reader offers keyboard shortcuts. I’ll take keyboard shortcuts over a mouse clicks any time, and Google Reader has plenty of the former. Move from folder to folder and post to post without touching your mouse. Very nice.
  • You can share your content. Google Reader has some excellent tools for letting others know about content you find interesting. Select the share button at the end of each post, and that item will be added to your public page of shared stories, complete with RSS feed. Here’s my page: Bryan Person’s shared items on Google Reader. Another option: if you have a gmail account — and why wouldn’t you? — click the Email button and quickly forward the post to a friend or colleague.
  • Create your own tags. I am preparing a presentation on “Managing Your Social Media” for the Podcasters Across Borders conference, which takes place next weekend in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and so I’ve been on the lookout for good posts about information overload. With Google Reader, I simply tag any relevant posts as “overload,” and they’re all stored in a single place when I need to review them.
  • Manage your river of news. In Bloglines I tended to read my RSS feeds individually — and I just couldn’t move through them quickly enough. In Google Reader, I’ve quickly become a fan of reading posts in List view. This option makes it much simpler to scan the headlines of all my unread posts and only open the ones that catch my eye. Then, I use the Shift+A keyboard shortcut to mark all posts as read and — voila! — I’m caught up.

There are more reasons for liking Google Reader, but the ones mentioned above really helped bring me into the fold.

Now, Google Reader isn’t perfect. There isn’t a way — at least that I can see — to widen the left-hand subscription panel or to add editorial comments to my shared items. But on the whole, Google Reader has made my RSS reading infinitely more manageable.”

Another series of reasons to switch to Google Reader are listed at Thinkjayant’s site:

“While Google Reader have been adopted by a large number of Bloggers but yet there are people who are stuck with Desktop RSS Readers. The Desktop RSS Readers have a few advantages of its own, but nothing beats the prospect of carrying your feeds with you where ever you go. Here are a few of the many advantages I find using Google Reader over the Desktop variants:

  1. Portability: Google Reader is truly portable. All you need is your Google Account and you can carry all your RSS Feed list with your where ever you go on the earth. All is needed is a Browser and a Internet Connection.
  2. Reliability: Like any other Google Product, the quality of this application is top notch. It does not miss or deletes your Feed list, have partial updates and performs what is needed from it very well.
  3. Accessibility: Adding a new RSS Feed to the Feed list is very easy. All you have to do is Drag a Bokmarklet to your Bookmarks Toolbar of your Browser. Next time you come across an interesting Blog, just click this Bokmarklet and it will recognize the Feed Link and present you with a Subscribe option. Simple isn’t it..!!
  4. Managing the RSS Tags: Managing the RSS Feeds and Organizing it is a Breeze. You can use tags to organize your Feeds in various categories as you please. It words the same way as Labels work in Gmail.
  5. Sharing Feeds: Sharing your RSS Feeds and viewing your Friend’s Shared Feed is very easy. The Navigation Pane has a Shared Item link to view Feeds that are shared.
  6. Public Page: It also provides with a public page where all your shared items can be viewed. Useful to redirect your friends to this link to show than what you are reading now.
  7. Auto Sort: Now a high ranking frequently updated Blog like Gizmodo or Techcrunch will not dominate all your Recent Feed list. Google’s smart auto sort will show the recent list populated by the blog’s RSS feed based on its update frequency. More frequently updated blogs with have less content in the front page of recently updated view.
  8. Google Backing: Since it is a Google product and a highly successful one, product updates and bug fixes are guaranteed.”

Personal Learning Network day 14– Wikis, Blogs and Collaborations

26 01 2010

I’ve spent the morning looking at the prospects for class wikis and blogs, and the English Companion Ning has proven itself to be an essential resource. Here’s what I found:

To start, I’m interested in how Rob Currin blogged and collaborated with Neil Winton in Scotland as part of his effort to provide his blogging students with a larger audience.   This is the sort of thing that is easily done (and no doubt is already being done) using Penn State’s network of teachers, seeing as how our preservice teachers are spread out in high schools in Pennsylvania and at the Pierre Indian Learning Center in South Dakota, and because of CIRT (Consortium of Intercultural Reflective Teachers), we have teachers in England and Sweden.  Plus we have short-term overseas teaching, featuring practicum placements in Australia, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Turkey, or Wales.  Plus we have quite a few conversations going on in Korea.  I’m interested in how they set things up, and I’d be interested in possibly connecting my preservice teachers and former students (and their students) with people overseas (interested parties please comment below).

Matt Christensen reports:  “On our class blog, I’ve involved artists who entered a global competition to illustrate Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. Artists from Israel, Germany, Croatia, and New York helped my students think very hard. Yann Martel himself actually joined our discourse, too!”  I’m really interested in getting a conversation going about his Life of Pi project, and to find out just how he got Yann Martel to join the discourse. And did I mention his blog is unbelievable — total eye candy, loaded with multimedia.

[An aside:  A very doable dream of mine, and one of my goals for this semester:  I want to get set up to Skype people into my classroom, and thereby avail the class of a cornucopia of guest speakers.]

Very helpful (as in lifesaving, jawdroppingly helpful) tutorials are offered by Nik Peachey, including, “Using Wikis for Teacher Development,”in which he offers the following class projects:

“How can we use wikis for teacher development?

  • You could use a wiki as a kind of scrapbook to collect together ideas you have on teaching, such as links to or quotes from articles you have read, as well as teaching tips and lesson plans. You could keep your own lesson plans online this way and edit and update them each time you use them. Much of this you could also do on a blog, but using a wiki gives you the opportunity to structure different pages for different topics, like having a classroom management section and a section on teaching pronunciation etc. In this way you could start to collect your own personal teaching manual and, who knows, at some point you might decide to put it live for other people to contribute to or share it with a mentor or peer to help you edit it.
  • You could work with a group of trainee teachers and ask them to create a wiki training manual by adding information to each section as they study on their course. You could then see how well they were assimilating the information they were learning on the course and this would give you the opportunity to revise anything they were getting wrong or misunderstanding
  • You could create a teaching jargon wiki. At the moment I’m working with a group of teachers and I’ve created an IT jargon wiki so that anyone who comes across a term they don’t understand can add it to the wiki and either I or one of their peers can add a definition. They can also continue to refine these definition and add examples as their knowledge grows.
  • You could video yourself teaching, embed the videos, and ask for feedback on your teaching from other peers through your wiki.
  • You could use it to collect and share tips on aspects of teaching practice.
  • You could work with a group of trainers to create a teacher development course book using the wiki.”

In “Using WikisWith EFL Students,” he asks

“How can we use wikis with our students?

  • “You can upload student work for collaborative editing, though you should make sure they are comfortable with this first. If they aren’t you could try uploading some other documents which need correcting or redrafting and get them to work on those instead.
  • Get students to create a story collaboratively. Give them the start or even the start of the first few chapters and get students to add parts to it. The nice part of creating a story in this way is that through hypertext links to other pages you can create ‘back stories’ filling in information about other characters and telling their stories too. You could start this off by creating or copying a short story of fairy tale and creating hyper links to pages about each of the other characters possibly telling the story from their perspective. For example with the story of Cinderella that I have created, you can tell it from the perspective of an ugly sister or from the rat that got turned into a horse! This is a good way to develop some creative thinking skills and help students to see things from different perspectives.
    • I’ve set up an example of this here:
      Feel free to register and participate or get your students participating in this.
    • Some possible tasks you could set students using this wiki are:
    • Add some adjectives and adverbs to the text
    • Add an extra sentence to one of the back ground stories
    • Try to insert a new character into the text
    • Find words that you don’t understand and add them to the glossary
    • Try to add some definitions to some of the glossary words
    • Write some questions that you would like to ask some of the characters and put them into the to do list
    • Look for questions that someone else has asked about the text and try to include that information in the text.
  • You could use a wiki as a sort of learning record which all the students could contribute to. This could be based around themes, having separate pages within each theme for vocabulary, useful expressions, grammatical structures, or it could be based around grammar and students could research and share what they know about various tenses and verb forms.
  • You could use it to create your own online course book, either working with other teachers or your class. You could get students to select texts and subjects that they are interested in and type / paste them in to pages on the wiki, you or they could then create learning materials to go with the text, as well as adding extra information and background on the them or topic or the grammar or lexis that goes with the text. You would then be able to build on this with other classes.
  • You set up collaborative assignments such as Webquests and get students to use the wiki and work together to produce their outcomes
  • You could upload or link to videos or images and set group or pair work tasks for students to do. You could use the ‘To do’ feature of the wiki to set up tasks for different groups or students.
  • The wiki also has a lot of communication features so you could set up online discussion / forum tasks with students so that they could discuss the story and make decisions about how they want to change or develop it.
  • If you have the means to set up a project with a school in another town or better still another country, you could use the wiki as a cultural research tool. Your students could research the country and the culture of their partner students and create a wiki about it. The partner students could then correct or comment on any errors or misunderstandings of their culture.

Another of Nik Peachey’s Links is “Creating a Wiki”  in which he provides some video tutorials about how to get going on wetpaint, his wiki of choice.

Also, Lindsay Jordan at The University of Bath recorded a relatively comprehensive video entitled  “Blogging With Students: How and Why,” which describes her process of adopting blogs and other learning technologies to support “a community of learning” and facilitate collaborative learning, offering guidelines for assessment and some pedagogical rationale:

In addition, she has posted on YouTube some additional videos, including one by Lee LeFever of Common Craft which offers this overview of wikis called “Wikis in Plain English,” viewed over a million times!

Amazing what you can learn in one morning.  FYI, I followed up with Lindsay Jordan, Matt Christensen, Rob Currin and Nik Peachey in hopes of getting a conversation going.  Part of the reason I like web 2.0 so much is that we can develop collaborations.  I want smart people in my network to provide inspiration and as a check to any misunderstandings I might have.

I welcome your comments.

The Personal Learning Network Day 13- Personal Frameworks of Coherence

25 01 2010

In the last two weeks I have found Siemen and Tittenberger’s term “personal frameworks of coherence” to be useful.  In their Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning, they write “Our learning and information acquisition is a mashup. We take pieces, add pieces, dialogue, reframe, rethink, connect, and ultimately, we end up with some type of pattern  that symbolizes what’s happening “out there” and what it means to us. And that pattern changes daily.”

When I created my Personal Learning Network, I was drawn to a model of learning that seems to fit the realities of my life in 2010.  I think it replaces a model of learning that has amounted to wishful thinking.  Part of me always aspires to graceful and streamlined procedures, adding onto my knowledge base each tidy new piece of information.  I like to see the big picture, even when no big picture is available.

I really should know better than to keep hoping ideas will be packaged so that I can consume the ideas like television, with such passivity that I barely have to participate in my own learning.

Of course,  it’s just as constructivists have been saying all aong, that whatever coherence comes in anything I always construct for myself.  My own teaching skill sets and knowledge bases — of my students, of my subject matter, of pedagogy, and now, of educational technology — always emerge from fairly chaotic processes.  My mind sifts through its environment, and whatever coherence arises from that comes largely from my efforts to make sense of it.  Gradually, I begin to identify a set of beliefs and practices that make sense to me, and, as I grow more adept, I learn that much of what I learn is cannot be reduced without losing something, and the only way to be responsible towards these things is to add them in their fully knotted complexity.

This has always been my learning process, and my problems are not even especially 21st century, and yet I’ve found it increasingly difficult to integrate the knowledge around me, and I know I’m not alone.

My preservice teachers face a steep learning curve, and the world is just as complicated for them as it is for me.  Many of them hope somebody can make it cohere for them.  They may think they are unqualified to investigate the field on their own.  They might not even know what it is they need to learn.  I know I wasn’t even sure what questions to ask when I was starting out.

I contend that I need/ you need/ we all need a Personal Learning Network  to make sense of the explosive growth of information and the proliferation of (often competing) ideas. It’s the only way we can hope to keep abreast of our rapidly changing field, which is evolving along with a rapidly changing world.

I am beginning to see that I grow my own personal frames of coherence, and no one else can create them for me.  There is no book written precisely for me, except that which I write for myself.  And even if I share my own coherence, my students must do the same for themselves, and so on for their students.  Therefore we must empower the end user (for lack of a better term) to create what order can be made out of such chaos, and I am beginning to see that I can facilitate that process somewhat, but never entirely.

And then there is the quote (of unknown origen — anyone know?) that says,”I store my knowledge in my friends.”  Paul Reid’s blog turned me on to Karen Stephenson’s “What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole,” in which she offers comentary:

“‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.  Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge.  Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.”

According to Stephenson, networks not only help us develop competence, but are themselves a form of competence.