Revisited: Blogging Blues

Mali using skype with students in Kenya

More updates soon on Trip to South Africa and Kenya with Teachers Without Borders.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who emailed me with concern over the very offensive hacked blog post that went out a couple of weeks ago. I was able to catch it right away and delete it, but could not stop the rss feed from going out (is there a way to recall rss feeds??). I have since taken measures (changed password, upgraded security measures, etc.) to prevent such an awful thing from happening again.

I can barely believe a whole month has gone by between posts. While it has been a busy month, it has been one of much introspection as well as I consider what paths to explore after I return from Africa with Teachers Without Borders. I have learned a great deal this year while designing curricula for the online school, but I have really missed having access to students. At the same time, I believe I am ready now to get back into academic studies. So in the last few weeks, I have been exploring both of those possibilities. I am excited and optimistic about the future!

Over and above my regular responsibilities, I have also become involved in two studies: a provincial-wide study examining the professional development needs of teachers and a self-initiated qualitative study (with Dr. Cheri Toledo) about the use of back-channeling as a learning tool. While I am not able to discuss the results from the PD needs survey, I can say that the results are very interesting, though not terrifically surprising in some respects. It is very apparent that many educators have not yet discovered the tools and environments of the Internet in order to further their own professional growth in a way that is self-initiated and self-sustaining. Those of us who are using online tools and shared learning spaces have a hard job ahead of us to get the word out. It seems, still, in many educators’ minds that professional development is something that is done “to them” once or twice a year at workshops or conferences. The concepts of lifelong learning and professional development are not connecting with many teachers.

The conversations I have had with participants in the backchanneling study have been amazing and inspiring. What a privilege it was to speak with nine innovative educators (from across a wide spectrum of experiences) to hear their thoughts on how backchanneling has enhanced their learning experiences, as well as their observations of constraints and caveats. Cheri and I are now collating the data and moving forward with the next step of examining the data for the themes. We are hoping to publish our results in a peer-reviewed journal and perhaps present our findings at some upcoming conferences.

Backchanneling practices have really exploded in the last year and are one more of the many collaborative approaches that the tools of the internet have afforded users. As with any of these tools, we must be careful not to use it because it is new and different, but carefully think through its practice, that it matches the pedagogy of the learning opportunity, and is a seamless fit into situation (that is, not a distraction away from the “main event”). I have enjoyed the opportunities to be an active listener as I have listened in on speakers and presenters. Sociality often plays a role in backchanneling – this will be another facet to explore as we look at our conversations with backchanneling educators.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about backchanneling – negative or positive!

Let’s Go Global!

Last night on our WOW2 webcast, we had an impressive set of teachers with us to describe their plans and involvement in global projects for this academic year. Kristin Hokanson was effusive in her enthusiasm for using web 2.0 tools and getting teachers connected and involved. Her “Connected Classroom” wiki is very impressive – check out the video she has embedded in it.

Cheryl Lykowski, with whom I have been corresponding for a few months now, has just won an award for her impressive work on a master’s thesis project involving her students (in Michigan) in a podcast project with teachers and students in Colombia.

Another teacher whom I had invited, but was not able to join us last night, is Jennifer Meagher, a teacher who involved her Sherbrooke Québec high school students in a collaborative project with teachers and students in Uganda using the tools and environment from TakingITGlobal. Although she has since moved to another province in Canada, she is an enthusiastic proponent of global partnerships and knows of several classes around the world that are seeking partners this year.

While on the local level in my own setting I know of few teachers who are flattening their classroom walls to communicate and collaborate with students outside of their immediate environment, I am encouraged that this is changing. Opportunities for global collaborative projects abound and the tools of the Internet have never been easier to use!

Other projects/portals worth mentioning: Life Round Here (by Chris Craft), The Global Education Ning, and Teachers Without Borders.

IMPORTANT!!! If you have a great project that has used WEB 2.0 TOOLS, Terry Freedman asks that you would fill out this form so he can show off best practices examples with the upcoming Coming of Age - 2nd Edition. Please consider doing so – this way we can all share our students’ great work using these neato tools.

Below is a slideshow of a presentation I recently gave at the Literacy and Learning in the 21st Century conference in New Brunswick. I include slides of my own three teenagers who each use the Internet in very different ways – yet in ways that I believe are typical of our generation of youth today. All three of them are using tools and environments which permit them to collaborate and share with others not in their own immediate location. I included them in my presentation to demonstrate how teenagers are using the Internet as a means of communication and collaboration OUTSIDE of educational purposes. They do so easily and naturally, not because they are “geeks” (they would quickly cringe at that label!), but because that is how today’s teens are having fun and getting connected with their friends.

Check out the other portals mentioned in the slideshow if you are looking for an Internet Project or Global Partnership this year!

Blogging – Not IF, But When, Where, and Why

It has been much too long since my last blog post. When I lamented how far behind I felt in my writing recently to a friend, she wisely pointed out that my “life stress score” was probably pretty high. She went through the list – kitchen renovation, two parents and nephew in hospital, hosting a big family reunion, child leaving home for university, change of job, change of routine….. okay, okay!! I have been a little busier than usual in the last few months!

I don’t feel particularly stressed – everyone is now healing nicely, the kitchen reno went well, the family reunion was a big success and it looks as though I am going to thrive in my new job at LEARN. But there are times, recently, when I have found myself overwhelmed into paralysis.

Today, Dave Cormier asked me to read over his blog which is also a part of a presentation at the University of Prince Edward Island. It is a terrific post/presentation and should provide some good material for those of you who may have to make similar presentations. I decided to comment and the ideas just flowed out like a dam had broken.

Here is what I wrote:

    A great presentation/blog, Dave! I liked your visuals and the embedded slideshow as well.

    I have a few more thoughts about blogging for educational purposes – not if, but when, where and why, as well.

    I used blogs with my high school students for the last three years in a variety of ways. As an English teacher, I am always looking for ways for my students to produce writing in authentic situations. Most of us are reluctant writers to begin with, so writing purposefully for a real audience makes a big difference in motivation and effort on the part of students. For the most part, traditional samples of writing would have an audience of one (the teacher), maybe two (if the student actually proof-read it!). With a blogging environment, the audience can be larger than just the members of the class. However, I have found that my students would *prefer* to write for an anonymous audience over their own peers – so powerful is the social force of peer groups in the teenage years! What I also discovered consistently over the three year period, was that the quality of writing improved greatly both between samples handed in for only my eyes and over time.

    This was due, I believe, to a number of factors. First of all, the students were exposed to the quality of writing by the rest of the students. Suddenly the bar was raised. They could see for themselves what was good and mediocre (and just plain awful) writing. The students who perceived themselves as not quite doing a great job put a good deal more effort and care into their writing. I almost couldn’t believe the quality I was witnessing from some of those students! As well, they were also aware that they themselves now had an audience. This also motivated them to perform at their best.

    Last year, I asked the headmaster of our school to read my students’ blog posts – at times in response to his weekly address – and he agreed. The very fact that the students were aware that the headmaster was going to read their blog posts also motivated them to really dig deep and write critically and thoughtfully. I was very impressed with much of what they had to say.

    So when we talk about using online social spaces – such as blog or wikis – for communicating for educational purposes, I would have to say a very compelling reason is because of authentic audience.

    I am very impressed with the new Québec Education Program that has now been completed in its mandate to provide a new curricula for the students of Quebec in the 21st Century. It explicitly states that the notion of text is no longer bound by words on a page (be it webpage or hard copy) but we now read other texts for meaning – visual texts, audio texts, multimedia texts. Literacy is now about making meaning from all available texts. Most blogging and wiki environments permit these texts (as you have shown on this blog post with your visuals and slideshow) to habitate all in one location in order to foster meaning-making for its audiences. Our students exist in a world where they are saturated with these texts. They have themselves become the producers also of these texts. I believe it is fundamentally important that we give them opportunities to produce content in meaningful, yet appropriate ways. This is another very important reason we educators should be using these tools and environments within the scope of our instruction.

    I have also been blogging myself – though certainly not daily – for the last two years. I took it on as a way to prime the pump for my own thesis writing for a graduate degree. The discipline of blog writing has given me back much more than that. I have connected with educators I had no idea were out there. In fact, I am still surprised when someone says they are following my blog! The notion of an authentic audience who reads what I write is a powerful motivator; however, with it comes a responsibility of care for what I write and about whom. I work very hard not to betray the trust of my friends and colleagues as I write. It is very important to play nice and play fair when you are putting your thoughts “out there” on the Internet. This is about digital ethics – something I don’t believe we teach enough to our students. As they become producers of content, it gives them an opportunity to experience ownership of ideas – perhaps through this, it will give them a sense of the importance of copyright and avoiding plagiarism.

    Thanks for giving me a chance, Dave, to thrash through some of my ideas and beliefs about the uses of blogging in education!

Some of the above ideas are greatly influenced by Dave Warlick who presented at a conference I attended a few weeks ago. We are crossing our fingers that he will be able to be our keynote speaker at a conference in Montréal in February!

Tonight on our WOW2 webcast we have a number of really terrific special guests lined up for a “super admin” show – Dr. Scott McLeod, Barbara Barreda, Chris Lehmann and Miguel Guhlin. Please join us at 9 PM EDT on edtechtalk - who just moved to a new server yesterday!

Soon to Come on Women of Web 2.0 Webcasts

Our Women of Web 2.0 webcasts have been on hiatus for the last few weeks, but we have been busy lining up guests for the next few months. Take a look at who we have joining us for our weekly conversations (chatroom and live stream):

August 21 (that’s tonight!) – we have a special back-to-school show with teachers as the guests! It will be a revolving door type show with much interaction and participation expected from our chatroom. Kristen Hokansan (Maine) and Anne Lawton (Québec) will be featured as teachers who are stopping by to share their vision for the upcoming school year.

August 28 – Dr. Mary Friend Shepherd (researcher on e-folios) and Dr. Robert McLaughlin (chair, ISTE SIG on Digital Equality)

September 4 – Administrator 2.0 Supershow – Part 2 of Men and Women from Administration – Miguel Guhlin, Scott McLeod, Barbara Barreda and Chris Lehmann will be joining us!

September 11 – Weebly

September 18 – Non-traditional professional development – Dean Meyer, Darren Draper, Steve Hargadon, Julie Lindsay

September 25 – Bud Hunt

October 2 – Diane Hammond – http://iss07.yesican-science.ca

October 9 – David Jakes and Ewan McIntosh

October 16 – Anniversary Show – David Warlick

October 23 – highlights from K-12 Online Conference

October 30 – Vinnie Vrotny

November 6 – Melina Miller – the Podcasting Principal

November 13 – Beth Kanter – Blogging in Cambodia

How is this for a terrific line-up of shows? Please be sure to join us for some great conversations!

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Eight Random Things Meme Tag

It’s happened again…. blog tagging is back. I was tagged by Charlene Chausis, who I met at NECC earlier this summer. Congrats, again, Charlene on your award!

Here are the Rules:

  • Post these rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

Random Facts About Me:

  1. I used instant messaging as early as 1987 when I worked at a computer centre on a university campus.
  2. My husband asked me out on our first date over email…. in 1987.
  3. My dream car would have standard transmission, not automatic.
  4. I love peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.
  5. My favourite number is 7 (and does not appear in any of my passwords! ;-)
  6. I like to read murder mystery novels as brain candy.
  7. My 60 GB ipod has only 175 songs on it (my kids are disgusted with me!).
  8. In spite of being a proud Canadian, I really don’t like winter.

Phew! There!

And now, for eight poor blogging souls, I choose Reuven Werber, Chris Betcher, Graham Wegner
, Cheryl Oakes, Vince Jansen, Jeff Whipple and Meg Peters (is it considered cheating when you use your own daughter??).

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Revisiting NECC 2007

Many of you are aware that my life has been choc-a-bloc full of activities in the last few weeks. Not only did I go through those crazy last few weeks of classes and exams with two parents in hospital (hundreds of miles away), present at NECC on three occasions, and start a new job, but I also had the awesome task of arranging and hosting a family reunion for my husband’s family (15 kids, 10 adults) – none of whom are local to us, but traveled from such diverse places as Ireland and Dubai. We are now all at the resort town of Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian mountains of Québec and I can catch my breath for a moment or two.

I just now FINALLY uploaded my photos from NECC 2007 to Flickr and what special memories they brought back!

Here is a collection of some of them:

Karl Fisch - Did You Know He Was a Best Buy? NECC 2007

At Best Buy - Two Canadians for the Price of One!  NECC 2007

Jen Wagner a Best Buy at NECC 2007!

NECC Poster Presentation - From Jerusalem to Montreal

LEARN poster presentation

Sharon and Jeff Utecht at Bloggers' Café  NECC 2007

WOW2 Webcasting at NECC 2007

Audience members at WOW2 Webcast - NECC 2007

WOW2 Webcast audience members

Women of Web 2.0 Presentation at NECC 2007

Jen Wagner and Dave Warlick

WOW2 Webcast - with Chris Walsh

NECC 2007 – With My Peeps and in My Zone!

As I did last year, I have posted my NECC planner calendar onto my server so that others can see my proposed schedule for NECC. You will notice that it is indeed an ambitious schedule with much overlap. My focus this year is on virtual schools and environments and sessions about IT integration for English Language Arts. These represent areas where my new job with LEARN will take me.

If you are at NECC and at are any of the same sessions, please do stop and say hello! I would love to connect with you!

Yesterday I said my final goodbyes to my many fabulous and exceptional colleagues at Lower Canada College where I have been teaching in the middle and senior school for three years. I want to again especially thank my IT Director, Gary Millward, and my headmaster, Chris Shannon, for their support and encouragement along the way. Chris and I chatted briefly and he was the one who said, “Sharon, you are in now in your zone. You and Vince are blazing trails while we administrators have the hard task of trying to move the QE2″. It was an interesting metaphor!

NECC 2007 will be awesome!! If you are at NECC, you are most welcome to join Women of Web 2.0 for the NECC webcast Supershow on the conference site – tentatively, the Blogger’s Café – at 9 PM on Tuesday night. Just show up to the centre with your NECC badge and mention that you are going to the show and you will be permitted into the building. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you can’t be there, please join us in the chatroom at EdTechTalk where you can catch the stream live from Atlanta and participate in the conversation!

I am hoping to do a LOT of podcast interviews and blogging – so keep your rss feeds rolling in!

Staying Grounded While Highly Wired

While that was also the title of my recent article for the latest WOW2 newsletter, it very much captured the essence of my life in the last few weeks. Aging parents with health concerns, choices about lifestyle and a new job, and managing teenagers at various stages and milestones have all kept me grounded in the day-to-day life of “offline” activities.

In the midst of that, I have tried to keep up with my blog and online reading, as well as participation in active discussions and communities. It was my great pleasure to act as a judge recently in the FlatPlanet wiki Project, another wonderful global exchange. I missed the Second Life Best Practices Conference entirely due to other commitments and just plain need for refreshment and time off. This week’s Future of Education Conference has also kept me on my toes and I have been able to catch a few of the presentations. Cheri Toledo did a great job today at her presentation quite wittily called The Future of Teacher Education: Herding Cats and Moving Targets.

It is difficult to be leaving one job situation (esp. high school teaching) while very much preoccupied with thoughts of a very different situation that awaits me at LEARN. My headspace is in two places at once and this can result in a certain amount of cognitive overstimulation!

Many times this past year, I have felt that I was just not making a difference with influencing other educators (especially my own colleagues) in spite of all the new approaches and paradigms I was experimenting with in my teaching practices. Yes, I knew for certain my students were benefiting – and that was very gratifying, but I felt so “out there” compared to my colleagues. It can be a very lonely feeling. Early adopters are especially prone to this – I have heard this again and again from my online buddies.

So, I was especially pleased that in these last few weeks I have witnessed two of my favourite mentors take up the practice of blogging. This, to me, is big, is HUGE. Reuven Werber has been my collaborating partner faithfully for four years now and he has SO much wisdom and perspective to share. I have often told him he should be blogging his ideas, but he claims no time. It is so wonderful to see him finally sharing his important thoughts with other educators in Classroom2.0.ning. Social networks like Ning offer this important sense of community of belongingness that is necessary for so many of us.

I am particularly charmed to see my friend and new colleague, Vince Jansen, take up blogging. Vince came to my attention a few years ago when he was providing professional development to other IT teachers in the Montréal area. For the past year, we have been communicating and even collaborating on several projects. Because he has always lived in a rural setting, he has chosen an … ahem… farm theme for his blog, Views from the Haystack. It kinda works…. except that part about me and pitchfork is just NOT TRUE! I am not sure how I feel about being associated with tools with prongs at the end! He will be a great addition to the edublogosphere and I have told him many times he should be blogging his great ideas and wisdom to a global audience!

WOW2 continues to canter along a good pace (this farm theme has provided a bit of fodder, hah hah) and we welcome Chris Craft tonight and Bernie Dodge (of WebQuest fame) next week. NECC 2007 will be upon us in no time at all – this week I confirmed my intention to blog the conference again this year. With three presentations at NECC, and other such engagements, I am beginning to wonder if sleep will be at all possible, but boy! am I looking forward to meeting so many of you!

Project Awards and Big Changes

I am so thrilled to announce that my students have captured TWO awards for their contributions to collaborative online projects with global partners.

Two weeks ago, I learned that our entry for the Global Virtual Classroom website design contest, Immortals and Heroes of the World had been awarded the second place silver award for outstanding website design. My grade 7 students were absolutely delighted by their recognition for work well done. We had terrific partners at Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois (Janet Barnstable – teacher) and Santan Junior High School in Chandler, Arizona (Shaun Creighton – teacher).

Yesterday, I received word that my grade nine students’ international collaborative literature project, From Jerusalem to Montréal, was awarded second place for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (Special Interest Group – Telelearning) Online Learning Award. My partners for that project (not quite finished) are Karen Guth and for the fourth consecutive year, my very good friend, Reuven Werber.

Students in my English class have been participating in this international collaborative literature exchange with students at Neveh Channah School in Israel since last October. They have shared literature about Montréal to the Israeli students while also studying some literature based on Jerusalem. The LCC students were also asked to perform peer reviews on the research projects by the Israeli students. Videos and personal reflections about the literature were also exchanged.

This project will be on display at the upcoming National Educational Computing Conference in Atlanta at the end of June.

My students have worked very hard on these projects and I am so proud of them.

I am pleased to share that the first place award for the ISTE Online Learning Award goes to the very deserving Flat Classroom Project headed up by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis. Congratulations to both of them and their students! Well done!

These awards have come at an important moment in my career as I have had to make a very difficult decision to leave my current teaching position at Lower Canada College (the best school in the world) and accept a position with LEARN Québec, an educational foundation associated with the ministry of education here in Québec. While I am very sad to leave behind my wonderful, amazing students, I am excited with the potential of my new job at LEARN.

More to come on that later….