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The Galaxy known as “Blogging”

It is with great anticipation that this pilot returns to the Galaxy of Blogging!


On our last voyage in January, we were directed by Admiral Branch to explore this area of cyberspace.  My ship only got as far as the outer planets, not even true planets, really, more like moons of the outer planets, very “pluto-ish”.  Creations were static pieces of floating space rock with no “comments”, no feedback, no links:   (http://jacquihigginbottom.wordpress.com/ and http://higginbottomanalysisofamiddleschoollibrary.wordpress.com/).  Although there is some beginnings of “voice” in the second attempt, they are just infantile formations.  Hopefully, on this voyage, I can explore deeper into the Galaxy.

At the beginning of this current voyage, we were given a series of landing platforms to try out.  Fortunately, Lieutenant Zulu helped to configured the ship to match the suggested platforms and even added a few extra!  The result has been an almost daily surprise of readings from the platforms, which we now refer to as “bloggers”.  Each time I open my internet, the latest posts from these bloggers pops up on my homepage.  When the number of “new posts” reaches about a dozen, I sit back, put the ship on auto-pilot and turn my attention to their ideas.

Access to these bloggers comes from a single source with an “Really Simple Syndication” feed.  Referred to as RSS by the crew, descriptions on how it works can be found on Wikipedia and other techy-type pages.  I just believe it is magical:  You tell the omnipotent igoogle which bloggers you would like to follow and “SHAZAMM”, their latest posts magically appear on the page!  RSS can work for pilots as well.  If I decide to send out my own blog posts, I have access to the feed through the platform of my choice.  Choosing to use RSS, you can become or you can get “followers”.  And that is where the true magic happens.

My Homepage

Followers make the Galaxy of Blogging “BE”.  The Galaxy would not exist without the feedback the bloggers receive in the form of “comments”; instead it would just be page after page of some random “expert’s” thoughts about a particular topic.  Instead, with the communication created by the followers, the entire community of those who read and write on the web are contributing to the shared knowledge of the collective curious.

This pilot follows a number of bloggers from the group of planets in the Galaxy known as “edukashun”, particularly those close to the Sun of “TechnologyintheClassroom”.  These bloggers are enlightening in their thoughts about different strategies to use with the recruits and have helped me become enamoured with the idea of being a better instructor by leaving my comfort zone of “pencil and paper” and piloting an updated mode of information transportation.  Blogger McLeod (2010) is one who makes sound arguments:  If we were really serious about educational technology, we would… [here are 10 to get you started]

  • show students how to edit their privacy settings and use groups in Facebook instead of banning online social networks because they’re ‘dangerous’ and/or ‘frivolous’;” and on goes the list to describe another nine ideas, and then even more from the followers comments!

One of the scariest things I have done since this voyage began was to disagree with our TechEd instructor’s opinion on Facebook.  He absolutely refuses recruits to use it in class.  If it is so much as opened up, their computer privileges are in danger of being revoked.  I have allowed students to download photos from their Facebook albums and have contemplated starting up a class Facebook page, or a “group”.  My discussions in this area were met with raised eyebrows, so it is nice to know at least one technologically savvy educational blogger out there agrees with me!

Blogger Warlick’s on planet “2 Cents Worth”, is a fine example of how I would like my blog to look.  He has employed tag clouds, blogrolls and all kinds of other things I had no idea what they were until I saw his!  I also enjoy his writing and his ideas.  One of his latest posts concludes: Real education reform is not about forcing teachers to work harder.  It’s about re-establishing the goals of education, redefining our roles as learners and master learners, questioning what it is that we need our children to learn, and retooling the learning landscape to truly address the needs and opportunities of a new generation of learners in a new information landscape for an unpredictable future.”

One of my favourite blogs to follow is “The Blue Skunk Blog” (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/).  Blogger Johnson is a strong advocate of technology use in the classroom.  His insights are timely and humourous – often mirroring my own thoughts on a certain issue (ie. His somewhat controversial thoughts on twitter: http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2010/10/14/improving-the-quality-of-tweets.html).

These bloggers have inspired me to “retool” the learning landscape for my recruits and to use a medium they already know and that will be part of their future.  The question is not “Should I blog with my recruits?”, but “How will I blog with my recruits?”.

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In order to answer the question of HOW TO BLOG WITH THE RECRUITS? I need to explore further…let’s check in with one of my favourite sites, The C4LPT “Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011” (LOVE that they can hyperjump ahead through time!): http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/2011.html

The site lists several Blogging Planets as having desirable platforms, as voted by users, including WordPress, Blogger and Edublogs.  Decided to try out Edublogs first (http://edublogs.org/10-ways-to-use-your-edublog-to-teach/) because it came up on the top tools and it is a WordPress site, which I am familiar with.

These preparations need to be completed several weeks ahead of the actual landing date, as the recruits need some time to establish communications of their own.  Let’s see what the planets have to offer…  *************************************************************************************************************

LANDING ON PLANET EDUBLOG:

A very welcoming planet, at first glance.  Video of preparation for landing, positive feedback in the “comments section”, all around, seems a nice planet.  Created a blog: http://mrshiggisenglish.edublogs.org/, and began with some clean up and posting.  Things were looking fine until…

Edublog site

…The first sign of trouble was the appearance of hostiles!  Advertisements flashing on MY site, right between the title of the blog post and the information for the post.  NOT FRIENDLY ALIENS!  Then when I tried to add new users (my recruits) each user id asked for an email address.  I do not want to give email addresses for each recruit! 

We quickly exited from Planet Edublog.  Will circle some other planets to see if we can get around this.

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PLANET WEEBLY:

Weebly – http://education.weebly.com/ – will give this planet a try!

We circled planet Weebly several times and attempted to set up a landing platform.  The site told us that our email address had already been used.  ??? We have never visited before, so this seems unlikely.  We tried another address on the landing platform (thankfully we are equipped with a backup…). THIS one had also apparently been used. ??? Crew has determined that planet Weebly may be experiencing technical difficulties at this time and will check back in later.

*****

Planet Weebly did send communications.  Setting up a landing platform…this is a nice, clean site.  Images are lovely, communications seem clear…basic site established.  Let’s attempt a drill with two test recruits.  Since I want my recruits to have an “alias”, I will use some character names…hmmm, several of my recruits’ choices seem to be taken.  Will have to use variations…okay, two have been registered.  Let’s see what I can do…

Weebly site

After spending several hours on planet Weebly, this crew has concluded that the planet is unsuitable for classroom blogging.  As a site for each recruit to have his or her own “page”, it is lovely, but there seemed to be no way for visitation and commenting on each other’s writing.  And as instructor, when I tried to access a recruit’s page, I was informed that it was password protected and that I could not access!  Recruits could post whatever they wanted without my consent.  I am not quite ready to give them that kind of control.

Weebly Student "Katniss"

Planet Weebly, quite picturesque from afar, does not satisfy this crew’s requirements at this time.  Reverse thrusters on!

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21 PLANETS LATER…

Searches of nearby planets has led to http://mrsaubertin.21classes.com/.  The crew will consider 21classes, http://www.21classes.com/ as a possible landing site…

Ooooo, already excited…calling it a blog “portal”, now that’s using the Web Wanderer’s language!  Here is a document of our earliest landing on Planet 21 Publish:

…must be sure to set up recruits’ blog settings to disable email and enable lead pilot to monitor every posting before it goes into the blog.  There are many settings that I can personalize just for my group…plus, I can delete all accounts at the end of the year and be ready to start anew for next year’s group of recruits!

Spent some time building a blog – think I will use this site: http://mrshiggisenglish.21classes.com/

Some frustration while trying to edit header etc, not quite as easy as WordPress or Weebly.  Created some fictional recruits and wrote as though they were real, including pictures etc.  Still not completely happy, but after only a few hours, what do I expect?  Most explorers perish before assimilating to a new culture or finishing the job (Think: Henry Hudson, James Cook, Obi-Wan Kenobi…).  While I don’t intend on leaving any time soon, I think I should have a bit more patience with this planet.  AND it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the recruits to see me having some difficulties anyway.  Will most likely inspire them to fix it for me.  =)

*****

…a few weeks later.  Still finding my way around, but happy that it wasn’t all completely new!  One problem: could not remember the password to one of my “dummy” accounts (one was same as username, other, I let my son pick because it was “his” account…neither of us can remember it!)  Spent a LONG time trying to access it, but because it is a “student” account, no email address is given…therefore, no confirmation email with the password can be sent.  Grrrr!  Have written to 21classes technonerds that this can be a problem. 

When students at my school forget their passwords (as often as they forget their lunches!), I send them to the happy lady in the library who does something magical and they come back able to log on.  It is a frustrating aspect of this site that I cannot do the same.

Heard back from 21classes:

Thank you for contacting the 21Classes technical support. Your request will be reviewed shortly.  Please note, that this service is for paid accounts only.
If you are having a free account, please be aware that replying to your requests might take 2-5 working days.
Regards,
21Classes Technical support

So, technogeeks is just my pet term and not the actual department name.

…finally heard back…all I needed to do was “edit” the student account to reset the password. 

Oh.

*****

Log updated this past week…
As per the suggestions from the “Edublogger” (http://theedublogger.com/2010/01/11/week-2-set-up-your-blogging-rules-and-guidelines/), I sent out letters to elders of the recruits explaining the purpose of the blog (reading and writing for an audience), the safety of the site and asking permission.  Links were added to our ship’s blog (http://mrshiggiatvms.wordpress.com/english-7-homeroom/) explaining more about the Galaxy itself and showing examples of already established platforms, including the following:

 Within two days, most recruits had decided upon an “alias” and a password and I quickly set up a blogging page for each one without any difficulty.  Each student is now  registered as their chosen “alias” (unlike Weebly, where they were “not available”). 
LET THE FUN BEGIN!

While this has just recently happened, I can already see how much the early adopters are participating, even on their leisure time!  This past 24 hours has yielded 10 new posts and several dozen comments – from only 5 trailblazers!  With this site, I have to approve each piece of writing before it can officially be “posted”, so I know how much they are reading and writing.  I have adjusted my school blog to accommodate the questions of “how do I…?” for the reluctant users.  Hopefully, all recruits will be “bloggers” within the next week or two.  I did make a personal communication with one family today, inviting them into the classroom to see firsthand how much control I actually have and how private the site actually is.  They have decided to allow their child to participate and I know she is eager.

I am pleased that this site allows recruits to comment on each others’ work and comments.  And that is the reason why we are doing this!  Previously, recruits wrote in the “journals” (paper books) and the entries were read by one or two others, at most.  This blog allows all recruits to read and respond to ALL writing.  With 26 recruits participating, that is a lot of reading, thinking, and responding.  All with the opportunity for feedback from me before it is posted for the rest of the group to see.

21Classes-Review page

The benefit of my complete control is also the one drawback.  Many of the recruits in the class (16 out of 26) have their own Facebook site.  They are used to posting whatever they feel like and seeing the posting come up immediately.  I worry that the “wait time” of my approving their comments will be detrimental to the overall success.  For this reason, I did contemplate using a Facebook Group rather than a classroom blog, but eventually decided against it.  Some students liked the idea of a Facebook Group, but several parents I spoke with were uncomfortable with giving their child access to Facebook and the perceived connections associated with using Facebook (unsafe social networking, and so on).

Perhaps the next step could be to encourage each recruit to build their own blog.  They would have control over what is posted, and after having experience from the collective blog (as I believe our classroom blog at 21classes to be), they may be ready for their own.  Hopefully, by the end of our year together, they will be ready for that leap to piloting their own blogcraft!

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Reflections on the process of learning about the tool and its use in my life

This Galaxy has been my favourite part of the entire mission!  I have enjoyed the exploration that the bloggers have provided and have benefitted from their words of wisdom, research and experience.  Before this voyage, my personal reading was limited to fictional escape only.  Now, I follow blogs for professional and personal development.  The hours and days and weekends of professional development over the past twenty years as a teacher cannot compare to what I have learned from these bloggers in the past three months in the areas of best (and necessary!) teaching practices.

 While many of the bloggers I follow in this Galaxy are close to the same sun (“TechnologyintheClassroom”), there are also a few that I enjoy outside of those planets:

  • A fellow pilot and longtime friend has begun a blog to document her mission to the Earthzone area known as “Peru”.  She will keep in touch and maintain a journal of her voyage  through this blog.
  • My sister, who is blogging her way through her second pregnancy.
  • “The bug guy” – a blogger who explores the flora and fauna of BC. 

My personal blogging, while not technically true “blogging”, has made strides.  I am actually using “posts” properly, so that anyone who might possibly be “following” me knows when I have something new to say.  Perhaps after this voyage, I will continue documenting my learning as the Web Wanderer and the results of this year’s classroom blogging experience through blog posts!

A sincere thank you to the developers of the RSS feed. The beauty of the RSS feed is that I don’t have to go looking for new posts from my favourite bloggers – it comes directly to me!  Magic.

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Reflections on the tool in terms of teaching and learning

It is surprising that I am the only instructor on my ship who is using this web tool.  In fact, the spacecraft my own children are currently travelling on does not employ classroom blogging.  Personally, I think the younger recruits are actually more suited to this type of online experience than my middle schoolers.  Why?  The need for proper online etiquette and safety must happen before the recruits begin Facebooking!  In our society, many 11 and 12-year-olds have their own Facebook account.  If classroom blogging begins earlier, at least pilots have a chance to teach proper skills before we lose the recruits to their own Facebook pods. 

My hope is that what I am doing will be noticed by the elementary instructors of the space fleet and we can explore the idea of classroom blogging at a younger age together.  The true magic would be that I would be their Teacher Librarian!  This is the first area of online universe exploration where I have been frustrated that I am not in a TL position because of the difference I know it could make in online instruction in our district.  Only one of our schools has a library blog, and it is strictly the TL’s domain – there is no student input.  I cannot wait to be an element of change in this area!

Thankfully, I can continue following my chosen bloggers as they lead me through my future courses, helping me define my future role as a Teacher Librarian, and challenging me to push my boundaries in the area of online technology as a classroom teacher. 

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Johnson, D. (2010) The blue skunk blog. http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/

McLeod, S. (2010). If we were really serious about educational technology. http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2010/11/if-we-were-really-serious-about-educational-technology.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+dangerouslyirrelevant+%28Dangerously+Irrelevant%29&utm_content=Google+International

Richardson, W. (2007) Blogs, wikis and podcasts. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. (As a Kindle download from Amazon)

Warlick, David (2010). Education reform is re-establishing, redefining and retooling. http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=2817

Waters, S. (2010). http://theedublogger.com/2010/01/11/week-2-set-up-your-blogging-rules-and-guidelines/

http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/2011.html

http://edublogs.org/10-ways-to-use-your-edublog-to-teach/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN2I1pWXjXI&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfJETK3am1M

http://perkjrenglish.21classes.com/

http://areallydifferentplace.org/

http://mrcsclassblog.blogspot.com/

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5 comments

  1. […] No, it’s not the Wonderful World of Disney…it’s the Glorious Galaxy of Blogging! […]


  2. Your comment about students having Facebook accounts and becoming discouraged by having to wait to see their comments posted to the blog is one that has me thinking as well. Enjoyable as always to read your blog – I will miss this journey across the universe with you!


  3. “very “pluto-ish”” – this caused me to bark-laugh out loud. A rather high-pitched bark-laugh, much like a lap dog might emit…

    Your post reflects a lot of thoughtfulness, and the assessments of the various blogging platforms in highly useful.

    “AND it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the recruits to see me having some difficulties anyway. Will most likely inspire them to fix it for me. =)”

    – VERY good idea.

    “Personally, I think the younger recruits are actually more suited to this type of online experience than my middle schoolers. Why? The need for proper online etiquette and safety must happen before the recruits begin Facebooking!”

    – another great point.

    And I second Shelly’s comment on your point about wait-time with posts. Students now so want the immediate that this factor may be discouraging. Is there a way to allow immediately posting to those only within the editing group – i.e. Captain and recruits, with public posting only once you’ve approved it? Hhhhmmmnnnn….


  4. goood…….


  5. GREAT information!!!!!!



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