Student blogging – “Important person” comments

I can barely believe that it has been a whole week since my previous blog post. Life is certainly fast and furious….

It is a good feeling to be finished and done with the thesis thang – as I called it. My opening words to my defense were that I felt very blessed that I chose a topic about which I am still interested, still learn from, and will still want to continue to study in the future. Not everyone has that experience with a project that is carried over nearly three years….

The topic was online collaborative learning for high school students with a focus on the development of self-monitoring skills (it was an action research study). Two issues that my research raised that I continue to chew on is the role of sociality in the online environment (and how it fosters critical thinking skills) and how valuable it is for an “important” person to show interest and provide feedback to the students.

Before the Montreal shooting tragedy of two weeks ago, I had arranged for my students to begin blogging in this elgg environment,, created by some American teachers from several different cities and schools. Even before this, when I was certain that I wanted to have my students blogging this year, I had approached my headmaster and asked if he would support my endeavour by reading the students’ blog posts and responding to them – the “important person”. The deal was that the students would be asked to respond to the weekly assembly addresses of the headmaster (he is a good speaker who chooses challenging issues as his topics) and then be asked to blog a response to the address.

I visited the Teachers Teaching Teachers site tonight to see what was new, and discovered an excellent post by one of the founding teachers of personallearningspace. He raises a number of questions about the elgg environment and questions about how to encourage students to post and respond.

Here is part of my response:

HI Paul,

You have raised some excellent questions, some of which I have had myself.

My students (Lower Canada College) have been using the personallearningspace elgg environment for about ten days or so now. I have had some experience with blogs (I blog – or try to – regularly) and have just completed my thesis (Ed Tech) in collaborative online learning for high school students.

One of the interesting results of my research was that students really appreciated having “someone important” respond to their posts. With that in mind, I approached my headmaster at the beginning of the year and asked if he would read my students’ blogs and leave comments if they were asked to blog about his weekly assembly addresses.

We are a school in Montreal. Many of you are aware that about two weeks ago, a gunman opened fire on a college campus here killing one and leaving twenty others wounded before turning the gun on himself. It hurt our community very hard. The first opportunity we had to listen to the headmaster was when he spoke after this tragic event. The students were asked to blog about their thoughts about the tragedy and his address.

I have been very impressed with the level of thinking that my grade 9 students have displayed. They were asked to comment on two of their peers’ posts after creating their own post. Again, the quality has been impressive.

Three years ago, I created a rubric for evaluation of online participation. I would be very happy to share it with you as it might provide you with some of the criteria that I believe should be evident in online communication.

I believe the requirement to blog academically is a valid one. We are asking our students to think and write critically and reflectively, share ideas, display good citizenship qualities, learn to disagree without offending – the list goes on. The best blogging will take place when there is an authentic issue and an authentic audience (the “important person”). You may want to consider asking such people to visit the students’ blogs and leave comments. Perhaps you may want to approach local experts in issues and topics that you are tackling in your classroom.

It is now the “season” for conference and grant proposals, so besides trying to keep up with teaching and marking, I am spending extra hours trying to create meaningful proposals. This is mostly new for me, especially the grant proposals. It is not something I *need* to do, but I want a little bit of practice and one of the grants is a lucrative one.

I am thoroughly delighted to be making a NECC proposal with two great ladies of the read-write-speak-listen web. We are using wikispaces to generate ideas and organize our thoughts. I have already learned a good deal about how to create and manage a wiki page! I also want to create a proposal for the upcoming K-12 Online Conference. I may even use the topic of “important people” and online learning environments!

Today was the day that the matches for the next Global Virtual Classroom Web Design Contest were announced! I am matched with Shaun Creighton from Santan School in Arizona (he is a terrific webmaster of the school) and Grant Sundal from Colegio Granadino in Manizales, Colombia. I look forward to working with them and their students for the next six months on this exciting project.

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“Life is not a computer game” and how to prepare your child for the real world

Life is not a computer game;
there is no 2nd level,
there are no extra lives
You’ve lost your reality.

My seventeen year old daughter saw these words on a banner at Dawson College when she was there the other night with many other mourners. It is a response to the words on the blog of the gunman who opened fire on students last week in the atrium of the college, killing one beautiful eighteen year old young woman. This past week has been a reality check for many of our youth here in Montréal. The local media coverage has covered the incident from many angles, but one cannot get away from the role of digital technology in this event.

Digital technology, like anything, in and of itself is neither good nor evil – that is decided by who is using it. Many are quick to point out the kind of angry and destructive venting that was posted on the killer’s blog and the fact that he was preoccupied with violent video games of school shootings.

I observed how very easily students were able to access information about the shootings on that afternoon – even though many of the “facts” circulated by the media were found not to be true later.

On the other hand, because of text messages and cell phones, we were able to locate loved ones very quickly (in some cases, though, the cell phone system was jammed) and get the news out that they were safe.

And now, I hope, we are more vigilant with our sons and daughters and how they use social computing technologies.

Vicki Davis has posted a marvelous guide – 11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision. Please read it. Please pass it on to as many parents as will read it. I will be showing it to my students as well.

Anastasia DeSouza – 1988-2006

If you care, you can sign her legacy guest book.

From Columbine to Montréal, Information Literacy, and a mother’s heart

I wrote this several days ago, as I was trying to work through what I witnessed that afternoon in my own classroom, just several kms away from the tragedy. We are all still reeling from the event. My seventeen year old daughter had many friends there that day – just as I had many former students also there….

Yesterday was a sad day for Montréalers.I have been in touch with many of my friends from around the globe in the last day or so as we have tried to process the horrible tragedy that took place at a college here in Montréal early yesterday afternoon. The college is just several kilometres from our school and many of our grads now attend Dawson College. Just about everyone I know at school knew someone who was touched by the tragedy. I have heard many, many stories of friends and family members who were on campus when the shootings took place. One of our school’s families is related to the young woman who so tragically lost her life.

Our school now has a wireless network and has equipped our youngest high school students with laptops. It has only been a week since we have provided our students with this tool that permits them access to information at the touch of a button. We have shown our students how easy it is to access that information (indeed most of them are naturals – digital natives). As I watched their responses to the news yesterday afternoon – because they all rushed to look as soon as they were told at the end of the school day – I had to wonder if there is any way to prepare our students for what they saw. I was horrified by what I saw. Our technologies permit a cell phone users to take videos and photos. Our technologies permit us to easily share those videos and photos instanteously. But our technologies do not mentally prepare young minds to easily process images of people screaming as they flee a scene where a crazed gunman has taken charge.It is our job to protect our students, our children from being exposed to scenes of such violence – real violence – in this case, an act of random violence that seems so unthinkable to most of us.

For me, it raised the uncomfortable question of how to protect our children from seeing such things. For a while, the news was reporting that a gunman was still loose and there was a manhunt on for him. How could we know that it was not true? Even the police at the time believed it? Our children were frightened to leave the school – the safe place we had created for them.

Yes, what happened in Montréal yesterday is not an everyday occurrence. I appreciate that. I hope we will never have such a tragedy of such mindless violence occur again. But in this digital age of instaneous news delivery where the ordinary joe can catch violence as it happens and upload it in mere seconds, how do we prepare young minds to cope with the news?

Online collaboration on my mind

Tomorrow is the big day – the day of my defense for my M.A. Thesis – Online collaborative learning for high school students in a blended environment for the promotion of self-monitoring skills. Yes, I am a little nervous and will be relieved when it is over….

Yesterday, wwwtoolsforteachers published its weekly webzine with the theme of …. Computer-Mediated Collaboration in Education! I highly recommend it and wish I had had access to some of its resources for my now-complete literature review.

Today I had a quick chat with a teacher in the US who is going to share her Elgg space with me as a walled garden for blogging for our students. When I have time later this week, I plan to create usernames and passwords for my students. It is my hope that this space can become a place where students from around the world can share their ideas about language and literature through their blogs. I have at least one teacher in Russia interested….

I had originally wanted to host my own Elgg environment on my server but this may turn out to be even better!

For this morning’s class with my gr. 9 English students, I shared with them the differences between moodle forums, blogs and wikis. I showed them examples of each and then had them watch netsmartz’s video Tracking Teresa. From there, we went over to Westwood’s students’ wiki about online safety. Tomorrow (when I am away at my defense) they will respond to some of my questions about what they viewed in a moodle forum area. Later I would like to pass on some of their reactions to Vicki Davis’ Westwood students.

Last night in our regular EdTechTalk skype conference the topic of online safety and DOPA was discussed again. One initiative that has been created to present a voice against the too-tight restrictions of the DOPA bill is a website called TRUST in Education – Teaching Responsible Use of Social Technology. It is only in its infancy but seems like an excellent idea for action by teachers against DOPA.

Back to my defense presentation….

Response to the Wall Street Journal Slam of 1:1 Laptop Initiatives

The latest storm in the edublogosphere is about the article the Wall Street Journal published last week dissing the efficacy of 1:1 laptop initiatives. The bloggers have been quick – and articulate – in their responses. Frankly, I find their articles much better written as well. As my school rolls out its 1:1 programme this week, I couldn’t resist posting this into our school’s communication server:

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article, “Saying No to School Laptops”.

The “edubloggers” out there have made some excellent responses to the article and I would like to share those links with you. They have thought through this issue and write much more persuasively than I can! We need to have some solid arguments against the nay-sayers as we embark on our own initiative. I hope these responses will inspire you.

Wesley Fryer, who is completing his PhD on the impact of technology immersion (1:1) on student achievement, presents a response to the article in his blog post “School Reform Vision Needed”. I have to quote at least one small paragraph from his blog:

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million more times before I leave this marvelous planet– the only silver bullet for increasing student achievement is A GREAT CLASSROOM TEACHER. Curriculum offers no panacea, high stakes testing offers no panacea, neither do or will curriculum pacing guides, new textbooks, or any type of technology you can buy. TEACHERS are the most valuable instructional resource we have in the classroom.

You may want to read his blog to see his list of ingredients for a successful laptop initiative. Another blogger, Mark Van’t Hooft, added more ingredients to the mixture in his blog article, “We all need perspective”. One of his points that I appreciated was “a ‘just in time’ professional development program that supports continuing learning by teachers in the classroom”.

Wes Fryer responds to Mark’s post, “More Key Ingredients for successful 1:1 initiatives“.

Vicky Davis, one of my favourite edubloggers, also responded to the WSJ article in her blog titled “Laptop Campus: Bane or Boon?“. Here is one of her points:

This is a great article and right on the money! Schools who implement laptop initiatives without specific curriculum objectives for how they will implement the initiatives are doing a disservice. A study just came out that shows a direct correlation with “aimless” time surfing during class and lower grades.

This would be the same with aimless conversations or aimless anything. The aimless classroom is always the failing classroom whether they have a computer in it or not!

It is up to we the teachers to set the curriculum and design our courses so that our students are making the best possible use of these wonderful, though expensive, tools that we have given them.

Blogging NAIS, conference proposals for NECC, and Coming of Age 2nd edition

Because I have just so much time on my hands what with it being the first week of school (and the rollout of the 1:1 programme at our school) and my thesis defence taking place sometime next week, I have been spending my abundant free time thinking about conference proposals for the NAIS Annual Conference and NECC 2007. Oh yeah, I also need to pull together a book review for the 2nd edition of Coming of Age: The New World Wide Web by next week.

Actually, I am getting just a little stressed by the thought of the defence and the review.

The submission date for conference proposals for the NAIS in Denver in February has long come and gone, but my headmaster wanted me to give it a go anyways. They were full up, but then I asked if they were blogging the conference and if they needed bloggers. The response I received was that they hadn’t thought of it, but it seemed like an idea worth pursuing. This gives me a strong suggestion that conference blogging really is beginning to go mainstream. Sure hope they get back to me with a thumbs up!

Today NECC 2007 opened up its requests for conference proposals. I have been approached by two terrific teachers who are also online collaborators to sit on a panel about online collaboration. Can’t wait for Atlanta next June!

One of the highlights of my summer was being approached by Terry Freedman, editor and front man of Coming of Age to be a contributing author to the second edition. I have been asked to write a review on Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Wow, a pairing of two of my best reads of the summer – what could be better? And so I join the international group of thirty-seven or so other authors of the second edition of Coming of Age. It should be released in the new year, I’m told. I have also been told that as of about a month ago, the readership of the book was at something like 30,000. Wowsa! It is my plan to create a podcast of an interview with one of my students whom I had encouraged to read the book over the summer. He was reluctant to read it, but returned to school last week all smiles and raves about the book. It promises to be a good interview!

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Sharing educational online videos about online safety and Internet research skills

RSS feeds are wonderful things…. Into my aggregator I get wonderful blog postings regularly and even though I simply do not have the time to read all of them, those with catchy titles usually get a glance.

And so it was that I discovered a video on successful Internet research skills from Wesley Fryer’s blog tonight. It was the kind of resource that I had been looking for as we teach against plagiarism in these first few weeks of school. I shared in an earlier blog the videos available by Netsmartz on safe online use.

We use FirstClass as a communication server at our school, so I posted the following in the Teachers’ Resource area:

Dear colleagues,

As our students embark on the wonderful adventure of using laptops in the classroom, it is important that we provide them with appropriate education about online safety and web literacy/Internet research.

I discovered these great video resources from fellow educators’ blogs:

“Tracking Teresa” –

Netsmartz also provides other videos on cyberbullying and netiquette on the same page. I showed Tracking Teresa to one of my gr. 7 classes so far and it made quite an impact. Note that activity cards are provided with the videos.

“Mission Possible: Successful Internet Searches” – video about how to do research on the Internet using search engines and avoid plagiarism –

Note that teacher lesson plans and student worksheets are provided with this video as well.

Both videos are highly recommended!

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First Day of School vibe!

I had a terrific first day of school! Boy, do I love my job! It has to be the best….

Today I had the first opportunity to use my new moodle area for my students. Last year I had used it almost exclusively for the international collaborative projects with other schools so that our students had a common “walled garden” meeting place. At the end of the year, I realized how short-sighted I had been in not taking more advantage of the moodle environment and using it more for in-class assignments, reflection, and exchange.

So this year, I am resolved to take on a more of a dedicated blended learning approach to my classroom practices. We started off with a bang today right in the moodle. However, it is still running ridiculously slowly and any tips or advice from any of you in the edublogosphere would be greatly appreciated.
I am also once again trying to install elgg on my server and again running into difficulties. The error codes on the page have been addressed and it is still not working. It sounds as if this is the program I want for a safe, sheltered blogging environment that offers podcasting and FOAF capabilities. But why, oh why, does it have to be so frigging hard to install on my server? I know I am missing some critical step and I have gone over and over it trying to figger it all out. Makes me feel once again like just a wannabe geek who is a failure at coding….

On the brighter side, today my IT admin told me explicitly that he wanted to help me with any app that I needed for my projects this year (wowsa) and the headmaster agreed to read my students’ blogs and respond to their posts about his weekly presentations at our assemblies. Very validating stuff!

Now I just have to get elgg to work on my server this could all come together….

If you have any expertise or advice on how to successfully install elgg, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you!

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k-12 2006 Online Conference : Unleashing the Potential

Even though I did link to this conference in an earlier post today, I thought I would also post it as I was encouraged to do so from Weblogged. Spread the news!

Here it is:

Announcing the first annual “K12 Online 2006? convention for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice. This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 with the theme “Unleashing the Potential.” A call for proposals is below.

There will be four “conference strands”– two each week. Two presentations will be published in each strand each day, Monday – Friday, so four new presentations will be available each day over the course of the two-weeks. Each presentation will be given in podcast or screencast format and released via the conference blog (URL: TBA) and archived for posterity.


Week 1

Strand A: A Week In The Classroom

These presentations will focus on the practical pedagogical uses of online social tools (Web 2.0) giving concrete examples of how teachers are using the tools in their classes. They will also show how teachers plan for using these tools in the delivery of their curricular objectives.

Strand B: Basic/Advanced Training (one of each per day)

Basic training is “how to” information on tool use in an educational setting, especially for newcomers.

Advanced training is for teachers who have already started using Web 2.0 tools in their classes and are looking for: (a) advanced technology training (eg. how to write your own blog template or hack existing ones), (b) new tools they can make use of in their classes, (c) teaching ideas on how to mash tools together to create “something new,” (d) a pedagogical understanding of how technologies such as Weblogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarking sites, RSS feeds and others can deepen learning and increase student achievement, or (e) use of assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of Read/Write Web technologies in their personal practice and with their students.

Week 2

Strand A: Personal Professional Development

Tips, ideas and resources on how to orchestrate your own professional development online; the tools that support Professional Learning Environments (PLEs); how to create opportunities to bring these technologies to the larger school community; how to effectively incorporate the tools into your personal or professional practice; or how to create a supportive, reflective virtual professional community around school-based goals.

Strand B: Overcoming Obstacles

Tips, ideas and resources on how to deal with issues like: lack of access to tools/computers, filtering, parental/district concerns for online safety, and other IT concerns while trying to focus on best practice in the use of Web 2.0 tools.


For organization purposes, each strand is overseen by a conference convenor who will assist and coordinate presenters in their strand. The first presentation in each strand will kick off with a keynote by a well known educator who has distinguished his/herself and is knowledgeable in the context of each topic. This year’s convenors and keynote presenters are:

A Week In The Classroom

Convenor: Darren Kuropatwa

Keynote: Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt teaches high school language arts and journalism at Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado. He is a teacher-consultant with and the Tech Liaison for the Colorado State University Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a group working to improve the teaching of writing in schools via regular and meaningful professional development. Bud is also the co-editor of the New Voices column of English Journal, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. A consumer of copious amounts of New Media, Bud blogs and podcasts about his practice and larger educational issues at

Basic/Advanced Training

Convenor: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Keynote: TBA
Personal Professional Development

Convenor: Will Richardson

Keynote: Ewan McIntosh

Ewan McIntosh is an educational technologist and teacher of French and German. Based in the Edinburgh area of Scotland he frequently works around the UK and Europe, leading student and teacher workshops and conferences. He is an experienced workshop facilitator in the area of Web 2.0 technologies in education across stages and curricular areas. Ewan blogs at

Overcoming Obstacles

Convener: TBA

Keynote: Anne Davis

Anne is known for seeing the educational possibilities in the use ofweblogs with students in classrooms, having implemented wonderful ideasand weblog projects with students and teachers in K-12 classrooms and atthe university level. She currently works at Georgia State University inthe Instructional Technology Center in the College of Education as anInformation Systems Training Specialist. Her weblog, EduBlog Insightsis a co-winner of the Best Teacher Blog inthe second international Edublog Awards, a web based event thatrecognizes the many diverse and imaginative ways in which weblogs arebeing used within education.


We’d like to invite you to submit a proposal to present at the conference. If you have something you’d like to share with the community, both people who are new to blogs and/or experienced bloggers please email the appropriate conference convenor above with your ideas. The deadline to submit a proposal (just the proposal, not the finished product) is September 30, 2006. One of us will contact you to finalize the date of your presentation. Your presentation may be delivered in any web-based medium (including but not limited to…podcasts, PowerPoint files, blogs, websites, wikis, screencasts, etc.) and must be emailed to your assigned conference convenor one week before it goes live, (see above strands) so that it can be uploaded to the server.

The conference organizers are:

Darren Kuropatwa

Darren Kuropatwa is currently Department Head of Mathematics at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is known internationally for his ability to weave the use of online social tools meaningfully and concretely into his pedagogical practice and for “child safe” blogging practices. He has more than 20 years experience in both formal and informal education and 13 years experience in team building and leadership training. Darren has been facilitating workshops for educators in groups of 4 to 300 for the last 10 years. Darren’s professional blog is called A Difference (

Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach

Sheryl is a technology/education consultant for the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality, SRI International, the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Department of Education, the Miami-Dade Public Schools, and the Alabama Best Practices Center. She has had several journal articles and book chapters published, been featured on public broadcasting television and radio shows, and is a regular presenter at local, state, and national conferences speaking on topics of homelessness, teacher leadership, virtual community building, and 21st Century learning initiatives. Sheryl blogs at 21st Century Collaborative (

Will Richardson

Will Richardson is known internationally for his work with educators and students to understand and implement instructional technologies and, more specifically, the tools of the Read/Write Web into their schools, classrooms and communities. A public school educator for 22 years, Will’s own Weblog ( is a primary resource for the creation and implementation of Weblog technologies on the K-12 level and is a leading voice for school reform in the context of the fundamental changes these new technologies are bringing to all aspects of life. Will is the critically acclaimed authour of the best-selling book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms (March 2006, Corwin Press).

If you have any questions about any part of this, email one of us:

Darren Kuropatwa

Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach

Will Richardson

Please duplicate this post and distribute it far and wide across the blogosphere. Feel free to republish it on your own blog (actually, we’d really like people to do that ;-) ) or link back to this post (published simultaneously on all our blogs). Please tag all related posts with k12online06.

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More connections….

Today I had lunch with two of my ed. tech. peers from Concordia who have both just completed their respective theses. We met in beautiful Chamandy on the Richilieu River in a monastery that has been converted to a restaurant with the Chamandy beer theme. If you are Canadian, you will recognize the brewery. Great brew!

Patrick, one of my buddies, just started his own edublog and I love how he blends his two favourite activities…. A great match if you ask me!

The three of us have been getting together every few weeks, less as a post mortem to the graduate life experience and more to share in conversations on how to put our skill sets together in our workplaces and educational practices. Yes, we indulge in commiserating on how misunderstood and underappreciated we are from time to time by our work colleagues, but we also share best practices and philosophies about teaching. I am hoping both of them will soon check out EdTechTalk for more mutual support and inspiration. The three of us are now considering starting an educational consultancy – we will see how that works out over the next few months.

Dave Cormier (of EdTechTalk fame) popped up in my skype later and gave me a hand sorting out my moodle and elgg woes. The news about last year’s moodle was not good, but there is still hope for the elgg site. In the meantime I had set up a new moodle site and a drupal site. I may not use the drupal site with my students, however, because it does not provide a “walled garden” for my young students. So I will try to install elgg again with Dave’s advice. Thanks Dave!

Once again, Vicky Davis posted great news on her blog about an upcoming online k12 conference featuring web 2.0 tools. My mind is already racing with ideas for conference proposals! Pass on the news and make plans to be there!

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