Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Education Timeline...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

My Current Personal Learning Environment (PLE)

Recently on Twitter, there was a brief sharing of which tools constituted our PLNs. I thought it would be a good idea to supplement that with a view of my PLE so that this time next year I can see how my use of Web2.0 tools for teaching and learning has changed.

So, here it is on the left. To get a better view of it, just double click the image.

A significant number of the tools I use are Web2.0 technologies. One major tool which which would have been conspicuous by its absence is Twitter.

I've included Twitter in this mind map even though I have not been using it long enough to have developed a strong PLN. Thus, I have tended to "lurk" most of the time but even now, I have noticed a change in my use of it. Over the last month or so my experience has been a more interactive and collaborative one. Nevertheless, I won't say I'll permanently add Twitter to my PLE until I manage to grow my PLN on it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Using Slideshare in a Blended Learning Environment

One of the challenges of creating and maintaining a blended learning environment is finding a way to actually share the content I have created with the pupils. While this use to be a challenge, over the last few years the ability to embed content, which is housed at other websites, in our LMS has meant that the variety of resources I am able to provide to the students and that the students can share with us is staggering.

Web2.0 tools often have the ability to share content and allow content creators to distribute their materials and assist in the learning of others . While there are thousands of sites which allow embedding of content my focus in this post is on a service called “Slideshare.com” and how we use it in our blended environment with a group of 10 to 11 year olds.

Like Youtube, Slideshare allows the account holder to upload Powerpoint slide presentations to their servers. The presentations then become searchable on the site and the account holder has the options of determining various settings which decide how the presentation will be shared and the information available as well as the licenses to be applied.

So, this is how we use it:

Any time the children, either individually or in a group, create a .ppt, or .pptx file they upload the file to the class account. Usually together, but sometimes on my own, the settings for how the presentation will be shared are set. The file is then loaded to our class account. Unfortunately, Slideshare does not deal well with animations, so before uploading to the website we usually need to adapt the presentation by deleting any animation effects.

From there, we embed the presentation in our EDU20 Resources area, or add the presentation to a specific lesson, blog, forum discussion, etc. But, as mentioned in an earlier post, Prezi.com also allows embedding.

The ability to embed the presentation files, and Prezis in EDU20 is fantastic for several reasons, such as the fact that the children only need their EDU20 login details. Furthermore, it allows all children the opportunity to share, discuss and improve on the content we create together or individually. It also provides supporting material which children can access independently or as a class we can access together over Vyew.com(see more on this website in an upcoming post). Children do, independently review presentations and Prezis to review topics they are interested in and to revise a topic we’ve covered. Interestingly, the children also discuss the presentations independently with other friends over Skype!

One of the other benefits of housing presentations in Slideshare, could be the ability to share the content with other classes in the school, but since most other classes are not at this point yet, it will, I hope, serve as encouragement, when they discover a bank of content tailored to the curriculum available to them.

Do you use Slideshare for class content? How do you make use of the embedding feature with your class? Do you use a different presentation sharing tool? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Class blog - a tool for reflection

Over the last two years my class of Year 6 students (aged 10 and 11) have had the opportunity to regularly participate in creating content for our class blog.

I would like to reflect on the “whys” and “hows” of the class blog and where we are with it now.
Part of my teaching philosophy is the belief that children need the opportunity to reflect, create, self assess and take part in authentic experiences which they can use to construct their understanding of the world around them.

Moreover, I think it is important to allow the children to have the opportunity to create “for the real world” and have the opportunity to display, justify and critique their work to a wider audience than simply the class or even the year group. In fact, last year, when I began structuring the blogging experience, the class was becoming very excited. One of the boys pointed out something quite interesting, the fact that now, his older brother who was away at another high school, could now read about what he had been doing.

As noted earlier, there had been detailed discussions with the school’s principal and we were given the green light to create, along a carefully delineated path which I had mapped out, our Blended Teaching and Learning Environment (BTLE).

As a class we had to determine how we would contribute to our blog, how we would maintain control and address privacy issues while still allowing the children to analyse, create and evaluate in our learning community. We initially housed our blog at Wordpress.com and then set to work setting up the blog.

For security reasons, it was decided that I would be the person to post messages for the time being although the content would be contributed by the children. Furthermore, as a temporary measure, it was decided that comments would not be allowed. It was not ideal, but I also knew that the roadmap ahead promised far more opportunities in the future, and this was a small step toward that.

The class and I then set out our ideas of how to organise our content and who would write it. We eventually decided that a weekly rota would be created so that everyone in the class had an opportunity to contribute reflective content about what they had done.

In the end, the first year of our blog was very successful, with over 5000 visits in an academic year. As we moved along, we fine tuned how we ran it but essentially, I continued to be the sole person responsible for placing content on the site after the children had discussed, drafted and written the material.

This year we have moved our blog to Blogger.com mainly because of the improved ability to use widgets. As a result, we have added items like a customised layout, Shelfari, and other widgets which we actively use in our lessons. Another change we have carried out this year is the allowing of comments. While the comments are always moderated by myself, it has now opened the door to far better reflection and discussion both outside of class and inside. Now, postings which get comments are topics of discussion in lessons as well, and the children are reading and writing as a fun activity which helps to increase interest and passion! The last change to our class blog policy has been to allow all the children in class to be contributors to the blog. They can edit their own posts as well as comment on others, but I still control the content to maintain security.

The class blog is just one aspect of the children’s PLE. Nevertheless, it has made a huge difference in they way they approach their lessons. They are increasingly recognising that we are creating a Community of Learners where their work is authentic, reflective and which they have ownership over.

Do you have a class blog? How do you arrange contributions to it? Which widgets do you use and why? How has a class blog helped your students? Share some of your insights with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Maria Reyes-McDavis