Stop Cyber-bullying Campaign on March 30

Zero Violence Blog
I used to think that the issue of cyber-bullying was an issue that affected only young teens.

Sure, there was such a thing as flaming going on in controversial usergroups and online discussions (something my husband regularly faces, but then that’s what happens when people are discussing evolution or poorly executed magic tricks!).

Personally, I have been blogging for almost two years and have been very active in online environments for over a decade and have rarely been exposed to very much flaming activity amongst professionals.

However, the recent events of the harassment and death threats against another blogger have brought the issue to the forefront of just about all discussions taking place in the education and technology blogs in the last few days.

I read Kathy Sierra’s post describing the harassment and was outraged. Beyond words. Incredulous. And very angry.

It is a violation of her privacy and of her own freedom of expression.

It is unacceptable behaviour that would be punished severely in any school and is (or should be) certainly a breach of the legal system in the developed world.

More information about cyber-bullying and resources to educate our students and other users can be found at the social networking site created by some of us in the last few days. Please consider joining this group.

Here you can listen Kathy’s interview by an ABC news broadcaster (care of Vicki Davis – The Cool Cat Teacher Blog).

If you are a teacher, please consider giving your students a refresher in netiquette practices. More than that, we need to be making it clear to our students that online bad behaviour is inexcusable in ANY online environment (instant messaging, blogs, forums, etc.). It very well may be thoughtless careless behaviour that will come back to haunt them in the future as employers will find and use such abuses as reasons to not hire or fire.

Anything digital can be forwarded, saved, downloaded, manipulated, copied and pasted and be passed on and on and on…..

Let’s make digital ethical behaviour part of our lifestyles and school curriculum.

Critics of blogs and online social networking have been quick to point out the dark sides. I say that technology tools are neither good nor evil in themselves, it is how WE CHOOSE to use them.

Please support the Stop Cyber-Bullying Campaign.

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Why Social Networks for Educators’ Professional Growth

Although my jet-lagged brain is struggling to keep up after a wonderful week-long vacation in Costa Rica, I couldn’t help myself when I saw Steve Hargadon’s new initiative today: Classroom 2.0. The ning software environment is a brilliant mashup of blogs, social networks, videos and forums. Please take a look and consider joining. We need each other.

Below is my first blog entry for Classroom 2.0 and I want to simulpost here on my own blog.

Social Networks – Challenge and Fun!

It has been an exceptionally busy 9 or 10 months. Although I have long finished my course work for a graduate degree in educational technology, over this time period I have developed richer and more meaningful relationships with like-minded (and sometimes not so like-minded) educators who have contributed to my growth as a teacher and mentor of my students.

I did not consciously or deliberately set out to create or extend a professional social learning network (not even sure it was in my lexicon!), it all sort of just happened. Like many of us, I am an early adopter of what some are calling web 2.0 tools and it is through these tools (again, not consciously) that I developed relationships. I would meet so-and-so, usually at a conference or other face-to-face meeting, and keep in touch through chatting or skype, and they, in turn, would introduce me to another so-and-so or to large group online synchronous get-togethers. I was challenged with new ideas and presented with new tools. Okay, I was even invited to be a part of Women of Web 2.0 and what an exceptional privilege that has been! And along the way I was having a great deal of fun. Challenge and fun certainly kept me coming back for more!

Several months ago, it occurred to me that I was a node in an extensive social network of educators from around the world. Professional development and growth were ongoing and I was being exposed to a high calibre of expertise and information that could not be provided by my school or administration or even a one-shot week-long conference. And I was meeting other educators who were experiencing the same phenomenon.

A Better Way

My observations about this phenomenon led me to believe that this was a new way, indeed a better way, of experiencing professional growth. As I was creating a conference presentation to discuss these ideas, I was challenged by some of my peeps with the most important question implicit in professional development for teachers – Were my students experiencing learning benefits from my exposure and participation in social networks? This is the real litmus test – and difficult to measure. Fortunately, I favour qualitative research that is based on researcher observation (with admitted involvement and possible bias). My own sense was that, yes, my students were engaged learners who were improving in their writing practices and in their critical thinking patterns as a result of my tweaks and changes through exposure to other ideas and practices.

However, I thought it might be interesting to throw that question out (and other such questions) to other educators who are involved in social networks. I planned to include the results in my conference presentation. A questionnaire was created using surveymonkey and, through my own social network tools (blog, podcast, webcast, email, and chats), I invited other educators to share their responses.

Influence of Learning Gains on Students

Some of the results were surprising and the open-ended questions provided some very interesting reflections and insights.

  • Over 50% of the 60 respondents reported they communicated with someone in their network between 1-5 times a day
  • An overwhelming majority claimed that it was through others’ blogs that they most extended their social network
  • The top four tools most used to communicate with one’s social network included email, skype, blog, and rss feeds (skype and blog tying for second place and third place)
  • An open-ended question which asked which tool was most influential in extending one’s network – 21 of 49 respondents stated that blogs were that tool
  • More than 84% of respondents believed that their social networks had a direct impact on their teaching abilities
  • Greater than 80% believed that social networks positively influenced the learning gains of their students
  • While there is no silver bullet solution for learning gains of students through teacher professional development, one cannot overlook the positive experiences of these educators regarding the perceived learning gains of their students.

    Value of Access to a Social Network

    When asked about the value of access to a social network, here are some the comments of the participating educators:

  • I am able to bring great resources to my classroom and improve myself. The best teachers are great learners.
  • My very lifeline for my personal and professional development both intellectually and creatively.
  • I think it would be highly valuable if utilised by more staff. The majority of my personal experiences are within the area of personal interest, rather than teaching related. I have tried forums and email lists for teachers several times and found them to often be very quiet. Within the team of educators I work most directly with however, we have used skype, and a group discussion email list to great effect for networking, problem solving and brainstorming.
  • Social network will transform the teacher from ‘blue screen of death’ to an F5 ‘refresh’ position. Hope you understand my comparison!
  • My network acts as a filter to help ferret out the most effective tools and approaches from the overwhelming variety available out there.
  • Three key things: – breadth of reach – I’m in touch with people with whom I’d never otherwise have connected with (apart from international conferences etc) – quality of interaction – the level of distributed expertise that I can tap into is enormous – timeliness of interaction – the ease with which i can connect with people at the time that I need to
  • Collaborative projects and sharing of ideas internationally.
  • (I added the boldification)

    I could not have stated these ideas better myself! And that is another key reason for social networks – we no longer have to be innovators on our own. By developing a social network of relationships with progressive-thinking educators from around the world, we are collaborating together to create the best possible learning environment for all of our students.

    So finally, what are the compelling reasons for social networks for educators’ professional growth?

  • Teaching is a high burnout profession
  • Schools cannot keep up with the training of new software, online tools, or best practice solutions using technology tools
  • Efficient use of time and cost
  • Ultimately, learning gains for students
  • We are merely scratching the surface of the issues, implications and great potential. I welcome your thoughts as we continue the conversation about this important possibility.

    Just in Time v Just in Case

    March Break Miscellany

    Last week I was witless with flu and it has been soooo nice to have some time to recover over the two week break. Tomorrow we are off to Costa Rica for a week-long vacation with no kids.

    In a few weeks Scott Morrison (another middle school teacher who teaches at Selwyn House School in MontrĂ©al) and I will be making a presentation at the QC Association of Independent Schools Symposium – The Three Cs of the Interactive Internet: Content, Construction, and Collaboration. Scott has been using wikis in the classroom for at least two years now and his students have completed some impressive projects using this collaborative tool. He has used mediawiki (which is the wiki software of wikipedia) and I must admit that I was somewhat envious of the software’s capabilities over the wiki tools I have been using. However, using mediawiki software requires a server and a bit more coding and maintenance than I would like to give.

    Scott and I met the other day to discuss our presentation and it was a great experience to meet face-to-face with a like-minded colleague and swap stories and best practices. Scott showed off a great new web design software that I had not yet seen – WYSIWYG Web Builder – and as one who has used Dreamweaver for years (and taught it!), I have to say that I was impressed. Dreamweaver is an application on steroids and I usually use only a small fraction of its bells and whistles. WWB, on the other hand, permits the web designer to drag and drop buttons, images, titles and so on without having to fiddle with code or tables. For middle school students, I thought it was a perfect application to teach the basic principles of layout and design. Some examples of students’ webpages – Areas of Communication, History of Communication.

    We also had a good chat about Bloom’s Taxonomy and the new top layer of Creation. Scott outlined his belief that good teaching involved approaching it from the top down of the BT pyramid. He distinguished between just in time teaching versus just in case teaching. By starting from the bottom of the pyramid (knowledge), one could cover too much “just in case” information, whereas by starting from the top, one could focus on the “just in time” knowledge that is pertinent to the learning goals.

    More on Middle School Teaching

    The focus for the WOW2 webcast on Tuesday was middle school math. Chris Harbeck (Winnipeg Manitoba) and Jeanne Simpson (Alabama) were our guests and showed off their middle school math wiki projects. Their projects were great examples of innovation and teacher and student collaboration for the teaching of middle school math. Students were able to collaborate cross-culturally as they exchanged data about authentic math problems. Unfortunately, some of their efforts were hampered by too-strict school filtering policies.

    Great links associated with their projects: Alatoba Proportion Project, spfractions wiki, 7math wiki

    Cheryl Oakes shared a very thought-provoking article by Educause – 2007 Horizon Report. It presents emerging technologies that will likely have a large influence in higher education in the next 1-3 years. If these technologies are shaping our young adults, it is clear that there will also be implications for the K-12 education sector. This paper is certainly one of the most interesting and well-researched that I have read in a while – take a look for yourself and then pass it on!

    LCC goes Virtual

    And finally, just before we left for our break, the staff at LCC were informed that we were moving forward with the creation of a virtual school in partnership with LEARN Quebec (an arm of the ministry of education in Quebec).

    This is an exciting initiative that holds much promise for both students in remote outlying regions of Quebec and international students. Steve Hargadon recently interviewed Susan Patrick about online learning and the facts she shares are very interesting. I sent some of these facts on to some of my colleagues. However, one of my friends in Israel recently told me how two virtual schools have been failures in his country. Just because a venture is online does not guarantee success. I am particularly intrigued with how web 2.0 tools could be used in online learning to increase engagement, interactivity, sociality, and collaboration – all of which contribute to positive and beneficial learning experiences.

    Other news:

    LCC Blogs continues to thrive as a travel blog for our four students in Australia. I am jealous that they have had well over 1600 hits in the last four weeks! They return home in about ten days.

    My audio interview with Noble Kelly, president of Teachers Without Borders Canada, was beset with skype gremlins and will have to be recorded again when I return from Costa Rica. However, it was a great opportunity to hear more about Noble’s vision for TWB and to watch it grow. I am sure he will have even more to share in two weeks!

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    Vision for OLPC, Pedagogy for 1:1, and Teachers Without Borders

    It has been a busy week.

    My students are working on terrific creative collaborative projects and we had a great skype conference call with my students in Australia the other day. I am not so sure they are so homesick and ready to return to Canada just yet…. đŸ˜‰

    I am terrifically pleased that their blog has had well over 1100 hits in under 4 weeks! Wow! And while those are all inspiring things for any teacher, my attention was diverted by a few other items this week.

    My collaborative partner in Israel sent me a very thought-provoking article from Elearnmag about the “$100 laptop” – One Laptop Per Child Programme initiated by Nicholas Negroponte at the MIT Media Lab. Not only is the story about the innovativeness to do with the initiative very inspiring (do read it!), but the canny insight about the effectiveness of laptop programmes in our own developed nations is right on.

    The article validated my own reservations about what I see happening with laptops in the classroom by teachers who have not been adequately prepared. It fueled my interest enough in the topic to pose some questions to Wes Fryer when he was a guest on our WOW2 webcast . His response to my question surprised me. And galvanized me.

    Wes stated that he had been thinking about it and he strongly believed that every principal should be *requiring* every teacher to participate in one online collaborative project per year. WOW! I know from my own experience that these projects accomplish a number of learning goals – everything from fostering collaborative and negotiating skills to using technology tools in meaningful and authentic ways. The New NETS standards – as provided by ISTE – are a great guideline to these kind of projects.

    And while I have been ruminating about such things, our school was able to host a presentation by the president of Teachers Without Borders Canada later in the week. The organization was incorporated in February 2007 and is just beginning its initiative in Canada.

    Noble Kelly, the president of TWB Canada, made a low-key presentation about the organization and its ambitious goals to train teachers in South Africa.

    Some of the facts included by the international umbrella organization of Teachers Without Borders:

    TWB –

    Teachers are the largest professionally trained group in the world

    * founded in 2000
    * membership of about 5000 in 119 countries
    * 370 volunteers
    * 10 country coordinators

    Programs and Projects

    * Teaching and Learning Centres
    * Certificate of Teaching Mastery
    * Emergency Education
    * HIV AIDS and Health
    * Education
    * Conferences of Teachers from regions in conflict

    Practical ways to get involved:

  • Resources
  • Curriculum
  • Mentoring
  • Partnerships
  • Technology
  • Outreach
  • Fund-raising
  • Networking
  • Sabbaticals
  • Please check the TWB websites for more information on how to become involved with this worthwhile organization.

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    More on Second Life

    Vicki Davis, my teaching colleague in Georgia, has written a very well-researched post about Second Life and, for those that are interested, it is well worth the read. Vicki, with her usual perspicacity and vision, presents the beneficial pedagogical potential of SL, how some educators are already using it, and why it is not quite ready for “prime-time” by the K-12 teachers.

    On a more personal note, Vicki’s community and surrounding communities were struck with devastating tornadoes last night. Having grown up in tornado country myself, I know how frightening and powerful tornadoes can be. Please keep these folks in your prayers as they recover from the loss of lives and property.

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