Twitter Guilt (sort of)

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
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Feeling slightly guilty … but only slightly. One of my Twitter followers is a schoolboy; we’re an eclectic lot here! His latest tweet, a minute or so after inquiring about the Genius function in iTunes, told us all that he was thanking the deity for headphones. They block out his ‘stupid teacher.’

Yikes! In class, listening to iTunes and tweeting. Gen-Y, you heartbreak old multitaskers, you!

And hey … out there in front of the class. Do you care?

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Hello, my name is Dramagirl, and I’m a webaholic …

Several of my latest posts here have focused on the flood of social networking sites I’ve been attracted to during the past few months. In fact, an entire theme has developed with these often apologetic posts. I’ve been a bit whiny really, using the sad excuse that such play aka experimentation is all grist to the mill of future posts.  Well that’s not going to cut it for much longer I can tell, and besides I and the blogosphere have changed for good.

For a start, the applications and services just keep coming. Oh yes, I could duck for cover or simply ignore the chatter about this or that new service that floats by, but it’s proving extremely difficult. You see the playing has brought new friends whose own interests lie in the social networking sphere, and so the chatter tends to orbit around this activity, if not entirely exclusively. Yes, blogging is not the same … at least it’s diversified beyond what I’d imagined when I began blogging 3-4 years back, and it’s all because of the technology.

This time last year I was recovering after the August 31 Day Blog Challenge. It was brutal folks! Yes, I survived along with other hardy bloggers determined to ‘get it right.’ There the focus was all on good (traditional) blogging: thoughtfully crafted posts, collegial commenting, shared tips on time management and sound GTD principles. During the month anxieties emerged from time to time … how long should a good blog post be, apologies for poor spelling, syntax and so on.

I also took part in a Comment Challenge in April this year. As you can tell from the title, it was about learning more about the art and craft of blog commenting, and sharing the conversation around.  Such a challenge is now showing its conceptual age, at least in terms of how ‘big’ bloggers and micro bloggers are commenting on one another’s ideas. Now it’s about short and fast, but hopefully not superficial responses. Posts and comments from services like Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, Tumblr and Jaiku sent from desktop, laptop or mobile phones now appear on aggregated sites like the mighty FriendFeed, where I daresay they are far more visible and engaging of diverse opinion and comment than here on the humble but still unbowed traditional blog post. And of course you can link your blogs to FriendFeed as well;  a cross-link to this post will appear on my FriendFeed site as soon as I hit the publish button here on Word Press.

But when it comes to speed of uptake, indeed turnaround in attitude towards traditional blog writing, what about Seesmic eh?  As you might be aware if you’ve come here before, Seesmic is the video conversation tool which has really engaged me for the past 6 months or so. There appears now … out there … to be a complete turn around in attitude towards what’s called video blogging or vlogging …ugh!.

Now, when I installed Seesmic video commenting capability here back in April and encouraged visitors to leave a video comment, I was at first disappointed at the lack of uptake, especially during a Commenting Challenge.  I got the distinct impression that most bloggers were not keen to do ‘barefaced’ commenting … indeed many declared it wouldn’t last and for all sorts of reasons, none of which frankly convinced me much. It set me thinking and has provided food for much thought and conversation. Now what has happened to the hive attitude inside 6 months … well, try Googling ‘popularity of video blogging’ and see what you get! Not the put-downs and pooh-poohs of 6 months back, but what comes close to a ‘told you so’ attitude. Well, told you so! And then yesterday, a new video commenting app called 12 Seconds was released out of invitation-only into public testing. This is video blogging or commenting on speed. Yes, 12 seconds is all you get to make your video comment. It’s kin to Twitter and its 140 characters. This is opening up conversation and comment to experimentation. I for one, am delighted to puddle around and see where this leads us.

Friday Factoid

Science Daily tells us that researchers now have a new gene pool of subjects to gather data from and to experiment with …  internet junkies. Apparently that’s about 10% of us. Oh well.

‘Hello my name is Dramagirl, and I’m a webaholic.’

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Class Blogging: getting started

This is a comment ‘upgraded’ to a post. The original was in response to an inquiry from a colleague in the US. She asked for some tips on using a class blog. My response got long, and by the end I thought it probably could do with a dust-off and a reshaping into a stand-alone post. So here it is in the hopes that you too might find it useful.

The first thing is to find out what your school’s policy is on blogging. Do this before you begin. If there are queries raised by any authorities (from colleagues, principal through to school board members), be ready to respond. Last year an Australian colleague (who was a genuine pathfinder in his use of blogging in education) ran into difficulty with a state education authority. The potential for child abuse weighs heavily on the minds of all people of good will, and bureaucratic organisations sadly have little choice but to wave over perfectly innocent projects like this one with a ‘stop’ sign. Subsequently educational bloggers here debated the issues which revolved around the banning of that particular class blog: perceived bureaucratic heavy-handedness, professionalism, pedagogy, the use of children’s images online, the open-ness of the blogging platform and so it went. It was a good if at times emotive discussion, and one that had to be had. It began and ended with everyone fully supportive of the teacher in question, and his approach to class blogging.

What platform should you use for a class blog? I’d use Edublogs, which has built in administrative capacity for large numbers, and which has been designed for educational use. It’s bolted on to WordPress so you know you are getting a great ‘back-end.’ There are built-in widgets and an online help + great community of fellow educators to help out if you get stuck.

Next thing sketch out how you see the blog being used by you and the class and design accordingly. Will it be an all-in, everyone-respond with you (or an assigned student) leading the topic discussions? If so, you are not going to need individual pages or blogs. I’m using the term ‘class-blog’ to mean a blog that provides individual students with an opportunity to contribute to a class-focussed project or theme.

If you require each student to have his/her own page, then you could go the way I did with a reflective blog on a group project. I set up the blog, assigned an individual page to each student and they wrote their own entries as they went. Individual pages can be password protected for confidentiality with students sharing their passwords with you. This approach is a tad more complex in terms of organising entries, and you will need to spend some time teaching students the difference between writing in their ‘pages’ rather than creating entires as ‘comments.’ This might not matter to you.

Edublogger gives the teacher as blog administrator the opportunity to create individual blogs for each student. These can then be linked to a class ‘home-room’ page via the sidebar. Each student has the freedom to design his or her blog to suit … a great exercise in aesthetics, design, and organisation in itself. Students can password protect their blogs as they wish, and each blog is just a click away. Meantime you as the administrator can keep the focus on the main page with your own posts and general comments to everyone. Student blogs have the potential to become a student portfolio over time, or a precious journal or photo-album. This is the way I’d go next time I set up a class blog focussing round a group project.

You should also organise how you want students to respond in terms of style and frequency of posting: text, photos, videos etc., but I guess this is no different from the way we’d set up expectations in terms of material assignment submissions.

Lastly, I’d take the students step by step through the process you have used. Show them how you went about choosing which approach to use and why, and introduce them to how the whole business of blogging works. Demystify the whole back-end thing, so that they are confident about the tools they are using as well as their content. We tend to take pencils and paper for granted, but there is still a lot of mystery and anxiety aka digiphobia hovering around e-learning and its tools.

Add-ons like widgets can be used as you and the students see fit or find useful. You probably don’t need any to start, but there are plenty already available in Edublogger if you want to play. Blogging etiquette including commenting and other bloggy practices like tagging are learned as you go. And that’s how it should be.

I’m sure others will join in here with their tips. Check out also Sue Waters’ Edublogger site. Sue is a prolific and supportive e-learning mentor, and the site is full of great, easy to follow and above all practical support with lots of ‘how to’ information.

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My e-learning report card

Report Card

It’s that time of year when assessment, exams and reporting on student progress take precedence over more mundane matters. I thought I’d take the time out to check through my own progress and outcomes in the use of e-learning materials this semester. Apologies in advance, as it’s a biggish post, and I had thought about breaking it down in smaller, bite-sized chunks. I’ve ended up making it part of a new series I’m calling Getting Going in e-learning.

So what have I used, how did the experience pan out? Here are most of the e-learning tools I’ve used for various learning and teaching projects:

Moodle My school took on the Moodle course management system for the first time this year. After a couple of training sessions offered by the university’s IT, I played in the Moodle sandbox and set up my course home pages and learning resources. Moodle became the hub of many, but not all of the apps and services I used this semester.

Moodle’s a long way from the Web-CT push technology we’ve been used to for some years in course management systems. For a start, the ability for an individual teacher to customise the look and way course materials are presented is a big advantage. However Moodle’s skeleton remains sufficiently rigid to please the centralist tendencies of IT administrators.

Moodle is pleasantly easy to work with once the format for writing pages, and uploading and organising files is understood. One of its best features is being able to write an email note to one student or to the entire class and to have it delivered into student-specified email boxes. Likewise they can write to me and have the mail land in my mail box of choice. I’ve chosen to have a daily digest format delivered at day’s end; this way I can keep track of student requests and all course activity on a regular basis. What I really enjoy is not having to log in to your Study Desk to access email in individual courses. In fact, time is saved and productivity enhanced through not having to click endlessly to get to where you need to be to do what you want.

One of my goals was to make the first view that students have of their course home page a pleasant and welcoming one.

Design matters

One of my courses is offered entirely in external mode, and I spent a good couple of weeks assembling resources into topics and weekly activities. These included visual images, sound files, hotlinks to videos, websites and quizzes. After loading these files up to the Moodle platform I sat back and waited for the rush of students eager to join in the e-learning experience. Reader, I waited in vain. They poked around in a desultory fashion, didn’t want to engage in forums (asynchronous discussions) or join in scheduled weekly synchronous chat sessions which were organised around the week’s topic. It felt like I’d thrown a party and no one had come. After the first essay results were in, I offered to lead an online writing intensive for anyone who wanted to join in. I got 3 takers. No show. (F)

Now why was this I asked? What’s the resistance here? Well the fact is that except for a few of the early uptakers and the curious, most preferred to rely on the old, known resources … study materials provided in their paper based external study package. External students are often busy people studying part-time, so part of the transitional strategy had to include consideration of time-saving. I teach a couple of other mixed-mode and purely on-campus mode courses, and had prepared similar course homepages with enrichment materials and study advice. In these latter on-campus and mixed mode offerings, I had to encourage students to get online and try for themselves. My findings were that students continue to prefer lecture notes or handouts obtained in class.

I found most internal and external student expectations of online learning materials were confined to the ubiquitous Powerpoint stack

Those students who checked out my course sites were delighted to find weekly podcasts either as ‘trailers’ for the next topic lecture or podcast-lectures presented in 15-20 minute episodes as well as the Keynote slidestack (pdf). Just as a sidenote, I’m experimenting with strongly visual materials to aid retention of concepts and key themes. I’m heavily influenced by Garr Reynolds and his work on Presentation Zen. Do check out his take on what he calls ‘slideuments.’ It’s worth a read and a check against one’s own teaching presentations. Summed up, it’s all about context: slides are slides and documents are documents, and we shouldn’t mix them together.

Marking online has been a new and pleasantly positive experience for me. I urged the braver student souls in one class to submit their final major essays via the Study Desk. In external mode courses, most submissions will be delayed by several days from submission by the student, through the marking process to return from the university after grades have been entered. I’m delighted to report that most of the class took advantage of my suggestion, but very few didn’t follow up with an email asking whether the essay had been received … anxiety you see! Marking using Word’s reviewing tool bar with tracking changes switched on meant I could annotate the essays quickly and clearly. With only 2 or 3 clicks I was able to return the essays and have the marks sent through to Gradebook. The students then received an automatically generated follow-up email. Neat. (A+ for productivity and ease of use)

We’re in transition here in terms of study materials provision. With the push for student e-portfolios coming hard, it’s imperative that well-designed and presented study materials be prepared for offering on line or via digital media. Until then and until students are engaged positively in using online systems, feel comfortable and confident with their use, I doubt they will be enthused about switching from the tried and true. (A for effort, but a B in outcomes)

Blogging Again this year I introduced a new class of students to blogging as reflective practice during a creative arts production project. I wanted them to learn how to blog and to share their reflections on work with one another. I chose the Edublogs platform because it had the administrative capacity I wanted; I’d used Blogger last year and each student had created individual blogs. This resulted in more work for me as I had to log on to up to 20 blogs when perusing student posts. I hadn’t considered feed readers back then; now that’s something I’ve learned in a year.

This time I decided that I wanted everyone to post and comment in the same place, so I set up a class blog and created individual pages within it for each of the students. The front page was designed to share general findings and for me to write posts and to call for comment. Students would keep their own production reflective journal on their individual pages. In time they learned the difference between logging on via the back end of the blog and writing a page, or posting a comment. It was a very useful exercise and results from this were positive from students: ‘Yes I’ll use a blog again’; ‘It was simple to extract quotes for my final report’. Most had never blogged before this project requirement. (B)

I self-host on and maintain another blog to which I often refer students for posts. (A for modelling and reference)

Google Docs This is the current app of choice for a creative writing project for final year acting majors that I teach with a colleague. Students work across the semester on scripting and then presenting a 20 minute one-person show. The advantages of having one place to collaborate and stay updated on the script (formatted to industry standards) and to refer back to earlier drafts is just great. Scripts can be worked up to the last minute and are instantly available for print out. (A+)

Flickr I set up a group to collect images for use in the production project (above) and once again many students had not used Flickr or realised its creative potential. With the discovery of Flickr, there was a useful opportunity to discuss copyright and Creative Commons licensing of an individual’s work.

Creative Commons comes as a revelation and a strongly debated discussion point with future artists and creatives.


Facebook also provided the opportunity for students to create an event in order to market their production projects. In the entertainment and arts industry Facebook is becoming more and more popular as the way to promote performance-based events. (B+/A)

Garageband This had been my choice for creating enchanced podcasts i.e., podcasts with accompanying images and sound effects … what you lose in production time, you gain with a polished product at the end. However, given the time factor as well as the problem some students have in accessing or converting mp4 files, I’ve come round to recording audio-only podcasts on my lightweight Olympus DM-20 digital recorder. Files then upload easily and quickly via Moodle. Students can either listen online or download to their own mp3 devices. (A)

YouTube Now this is one app that doesn’t need talking up with students. Most use it pretty regularly, but making the leap from online entertainment to learning resource needs guiding. I linked videos to blog posts as discussion tools, and encouraged students to do likewise. (B+-A)

Summary I’m settling into a pattern with my use of Web 2.0 tools. Blogs are becoming my writing tool of choice for class and individual reflections with Google Docs out there for collaboration on individual student projects. Linking to Flickr and YouTube within posts beefs up the potential for discussion within the blog. Moodle is here to stay within the university system, and finding a way to integrate blogging within this platform will be the next step in creating a one-stop for students to work online. At the moment blogging is not available within Moodle.

And I see iTunes U has come to Australia this week. Wonder how that will work out?

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Reflections on a month …

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson).

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly at the end now, and days 29-31 have been about wrapping up the 31 Day Comment Challenge. The final 3 days focus on the learnings: to prepare a commenting guide for students, to consider how learnings from this commenting project could change one’s teaching practices, and finally … to reflect on what we’ve learned from the challenge.

I have to say that the task of preparing a commenting guide for students is more difficult than I’d imagined. I know that students do know how to comment, can comment if they want to, or if the encouragement to do so … the incentive is sufficiently meaningful, and if the atmosphere is conducive to discussion. The challenge is to make the horses drink once you’ve brought them to the water.

Now I teach in the world of the performing arts where expressive, imaginative commenting out loud is almost a given; most of these students have the confidence to contribute their opinions in a lively and engaging way. I also teach non-performance majors in arts history courses. Encouraging these students to contribute in live tutorial sessions often proves difficult … especially if the class is shared with a group of voluble actors or musicians. The challenge with a live class is to generate a good discussion, to enable commenting from everyone who wishes to contribute … not all do of course … and not let one or two dominate the session. Useful to remember though that it’s OK to lurk … you can learn this way too.

Now when it comes to interacting online, I remain convinced that for most students, their insecurity about technology, lack of access or poor net connection, along with anxiety about the concreteness of words really do prevent the kind of free-flowing discussion that we like to encourage. Further inhibitions could come from the fact that you can’t read body-language in words on a screen, and can’t see a face or hear vocal tone … think how the simple upward inflection at the end of a statement actually encourages further comment. And that’s not the same as a question mark on the screen.

Yesterday I had a scheduled tutorial session which followed on the previous day’s lecture. It was a cold day and the class was sluggish as they entered the room. I wondered whether creating a playful but purposeful environment mightn’t warm them up. So I applied the kind of approach more often found in a rehearsal room. I asked a student (an acting major) whether she could run the discussion as tutor for the day … to be provocative, outspoken if necessary, and to encourage comment. She went immediately into role as ‘lecturer’ and it worked far better than I’d hoped. Students relaxed … I felt the fear factor diminished … I wasn’t out front for a start … and the discussion rolled along even amongst the quieter contributors. This strategy worked ‘live’ but I wondered whether throwing responsibility to one of the group mightn’t work in the same way in stimulating online discussion. Variety as the spice and all.

What else have I learned from the challenge to change or value-add to my teaching practices? The tension between the ideal and reality in the use of online digital media has surfaced on an almost-daily basis in comments. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise the potential of e-learning, but like many I am frustrated by the slow uptake and even resistance to it … from colleagues as well as students. I realise the necessity to tread softly but persistently and judiciously as I model and mentor learning in this 21st century medium. And to be patient.

5 Learnings

  1. I’ve learned more about what I’ve been calling the commenting fear factor. It appears that we are still sufficiently anxious to be wary of putting our opinions out there. As a result, we’re perhaps less likely to comment than we should; a bad experience via a comment has the potential to do a lot of damage. And … people are less secure about commenting via video (technology, personal vulnerability) than they are about commenting per se. Will video and audio commenting develop? Yes.
  2. I’ve been reminded of the power of one comment to revive a flagging spirit. Someone out there is reading or watching, or listening, and thought enough of what was said to take the time to engage.
  3. What I’ve experienced has been the reinforcement of one of the greatest strengths we have as teacher-learners, and that is our capacity to generate and nurture a community of practice … whether online as in this project, or live and face to face. This lessons of this challenge have reinforced for me the necessity of collegial support amongst educators … by encouraging and supporting a colleague next door or down the hall; by engaging in a discussion in the lunch room, or by posting a video or written comment in a blog from a colleague half a world away. What matters is that we keep talking, sharing, and valuing contributions.
  4. I’ve been reminded of the power a well-designed tool has to encourage or turn off a learner. I don’t like design that’s flaky or loud with ads … sorry CoComment, it just didn’t do it for me! And I’m not convinced yet by Snapvine (audio). Seesmic is here to stay.
  5. I work better in my busy life in short, focussed or intensive bursts of work. For this reason, I would like shorter challenges … say a 5 or 10 day rather than a whole 31 days of tasks.

What will stay with me from this experience? Posts from a few new blog discoveries will continue to arrive in my feed reader. I’ve met up with and traded ideas with some wonderful thinkers, writers, and creative souls during the past month, and I’d like to continue this engagement.  I’ve received so much valuable, direct and indirect feedback, support and advice on my writing and on the tone and substance of my comments. My thanks to all of you. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Hello June … and welcome winter to the southern hemisphere.

Which way to the classroom?

Workshop Day 1

Acting Class: collaborative text analysis and imaging the narrative

The focus of this post concerns the changing nature of our ‘classrooms’. School’s in for the year and we’ve hit the ground running as they say; at least we’re there on the ground in traditional classrooms, in workshops, and online. The electronic revolution is nibbling insistently if not biting hard yet … at least as far as e-learning is concerned in my neck of the woods.

Last night I worked in a virtual classroom in a live chat with a very small group of students … hope this grows! Memo to self: strategise getting them on board! They still need help, as do my colleagues, to make sense of this Web 2.0 world. I’ve also been working in a traditional classroom in the stand and deliver mode this week, but even there I’m more interested in getting the students to do the learning, rather than to stroke my own ego by giving them the goods culled and mediated through my own experience.

Workshop Day 1

Acting Class: collaborative text analysis and imaging the narrative

The focus of this post concerns the changing nature of our ‘classrooms’. School’s in for the year and we’ve hit the ground running as they say; at least we’re there on the ground in traditional classrooms, in workshops, and online. The electronic revolution is nibbling insistently if not biting hard yet … at least as far as e-learning is concerned in my neck of the woods.

Last night I worked in a virtual classroom in a live chat with a very small group of students … hope this grows! Memo to self: strategise getting them on board! They still need help, as do my colleagues, to make sense of this Web 2.0 world. I’ve also been working in a traditional classroom in the stand and deliver mode this week, but even there I’m more interested in getting the students to do the learning, rather than to stroke my own ego by giving them the goods culled and mediated through my own experience. Continue reading “Which way to the classroom?”