Compromise: how often do you do it with technology in schools?

I ask this question because it sheds light on the current state of my attempts to bring about more use of multimedia in my school. This previous blog post provided a commentary on the difficulties I was having in trying to use external websites to begin a process of encouraging other teachers to use innovative, emerging multimedia.

So the title of this post is compromise. I knew that the failures with the wikis no longer working on our schools systems could easily be repeated if I choose to continue with the approach of using the kind of external websites. This was further confirmed by one of my most valued websites, diigo.com, suddenly being blocked when I returned after half-term (eventually I managed to get it unblocked with help).

This didn’t leave me with very many options. I knew I wanted to continue to push the use of podcasting in the school but the reality of knowing that there is a definite and sometimes steep learning curve involved in using this meant that I wasn’t sure it would sit with people who were sceptical / didn’t think they could use new multimedia . This ‘group’ of staff represents the point of the project I am doing – I have found it relatively straightforward and rewarding to collaborate with members of staff already proficient in using multimedia, as might be expected – what I need to do is try and encourage those who want to be proficient but don’t know how to be. On this I think the merit and point of my project stands and falls.

I found that I was struggling where to turn to know what to do next – some kind of compromise with the multimedia tools I was using needed to be made.

The VLE

For those not familiar with the terminology, a VLE is a virtual learning environment or school portal, through which students and teachers share a space where they collaborate and share resources. In principle its great – mainly because it neatly dodges all those issues associated with e-safety – the space is enclosed and only teachers, students (and parents) have access.

For me though, the VLE, or at least what existed of it for my school (we run the version by RM) a year ago was, in my own words clunky. There seemed very little in the way of ‘web 2.0’ tools – I could find no blogging facilities, for example. The thing was slow and when I tried using it with my Year 11 class last year, it frequently crashed. I dismissed it as something that was not analogus with what I wanted to achieve with the use of multimedia – I resolved not to use it as one of the tools for advocating my use of multmedia.

The RM VLE - and the 'space' that the year 11's had to revise - containing podcasts they had made for revision in class - they could then access this from home.

Present day

To give credit where credit is due, RM have made a lot of improvements to the VLE in the past year. I always kept half an eye on it – continuing to use it with Year 11 last year as they entered the exam. There were successes as well as failures – details of which you can see in this short video. What I noticed was that gradually features such as blogs, wikis and discussion forums were being added (to be fair they may have been there from the start, but I found them neither easy to find, or easy to set up).

Then, for me, recently came the neatest innovation – every time you created a course for a group that you teach, a learning space was automatically created for it as well. What this means is that the resources are there and easily accessible, but you are also given a fully customisable page for each group you are teaching. On this page you can add a number of customisable features easily – including blogs, wikis, forums, RSS feeds and document libraries – all things associated with user-generated content. At this point I began to realise that I had made an error in being so dismissive of the VLE – and actually it appeared to be coming into its own just as I was facing problems using the external websites I had been advocating in school.

This half term has therefore seen me trying to throw all my efforts into using the VLE as a tool for helping me work with other colleagues. Responses so far have been positive and currently I am working with colleagues by:

  • Using the VLE to collaborate with one teacher in setting up a blogging facility on classes learning spaces – allowing them to reflect on their learning as well as access course materials.
  • Posting homeworks that English teachers in one year group can access and set to their students.
  • Helping one teacher to set up a discussion forum for her high-ability GCSE group to encourage discussions related to exam texts in the run up to the mock exam.

Conclusions

I feel like I am getting to the stage now where I have developed meaningful collaborations with colleagues. I don’t intend to stop this process beyond the scope of this project – indeed, this blog will hopefully provide a way with me to continue collaborating with colleagues who are perhaps not even in my school. What a focus of mine must be now though, is in collecting the thoughts of my colleagues on whether they now feel more confident in using and collaborating with innovative, engaging forms of multimedia.

So in this case, compromise seems to have worked, although it is too early to tell whether the project has resulted in significant differences in colleagues’ practice. How do others feel about this issue of compromising in the use of technology in school?

Using Cool Iris to present podcasts, diigo and the VLE

I was asked recently to provide a talk to another school in the town where I work on how the work I have been doing relates to the concept of developling Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). I approached this from the angle of how I have been using multimedia to develop reflective learners – and by that I am referring to both staff and students.

This blog post therefore has 2 purposes – it shows you how to use the freely downloadable program cooliris to provide a rich multimedia presentation and also I will talk about the content of the presentation and how it reflects the practices I have been developing in using multimedia.

My presentation. You can view it @ http://tinyurl.com/ygv4glj

Cool Iris. My tools for this presentation came from these three blog posts. I was particularly wanting to use cool iris for a presentation because it enables you to switch between ‘slides’ (actually pictures) easily. I had a selection of images that I thought enabled me to frame what I was trying to say and a few powerpoint slides for moments of building on / concluding points. Cool Iris is great primarily because of how it is activated. When browsing with it installed, all you need to see is the little triangle/arrow () that lights up in the bottom left corner of an image, click it and you automatically launch the cool iris browser.

My intention was to move away from the ‘death by powerpoint’ thing that can sometimes happen when people give presentations about technology. Moreover, I wanted my philosophy of using innovative, engaging forms of multimedia to colour the the tools that I used to present my noticing (Mason, 2002) of it. I hoped this would provide a genuinley engaging way of presenting to staff who may or may not have an interest in multimedia.

Continue reading

Early problems in collaborating with multimedia

Part of the difficulty about being a reflective practitioner is that its often easy to post stories of your successes on here; often its not so easy to discuss and try and pick apart what’s not going so well. Stay with me: hopefully there are lessons here that maybe lessons for you if you are thinking about trying to change the use of multimedia in your school for the better…

A brief recap for those who are first timers to this blog: My aim is to work with other colleagues to encourage them to use new and innnovative forms of multimedia. If they use them with their students: bonus. If they don’t – I might still judge what I am doing a success, mainly because of reflecting on how developing my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through this blog has improved my use of multimedia in the classroom. Will Richardson writes (see bottom for ref.):

“While there is no doubt my classes were in many ways profoundly changed by blogs and wikis and the like, the bigger truth is that the transformation in my own personal learning practice is what informed my work with students.” (Page 8 )

This is how I feel about the potential of engaging multimedia to enhance the practice of teachers and underpins what I am trying to do at the moment.

What follows is an account of some of the things that have gone, err, wrong since I started trying to change things…

September-October 2009

  • I was using wetpaint to develop two wikis for school; one is for teacher reflection, the other was the development of a sports website for the school where the PE staff could provide out of school access to resources for students and allow students to contribute to the website. Unfortunately over the summer, wetpaint upgraded their service, leaving my school, which still uses Internet Explorer 6, unable to access the website properly anymore – they are virtually useless at school. This is a real shame; I have spoken to the IT technician at my school and he thinks it’s unlikely that we will be upgrading IE anytime soon, nor is it a decision that is in his hands. So, at least for a while, its back to the drawing board for me with these two small projects! I would appreciate any suggestions people had…
  • Inset – I was originally hoping to give a town-wide inset on using podcasts, wikis and blogs (there are 5 secondary schools in the town where I work). This would have been a fantastic chance to show some of the things I feel I have learnt from using these 3 different multimedia , but unfortunately I have found out that the session will be run in another school, by others. There is little I can do about this and instead I have resolved myself to attend the meetings (which have now been seperated into ‘podcasting’ and ‘blogs/wikis’) and make sure that I take advantage of the fact that there are going to be other colleagues from other secondary schools who clearly have an interest in this area – and see if they are interested in collaborating.

So, technically speaking, my ‘project’ should be finished (as if I’m ever going to stop doing this kind of thing now!) by around February, so the clock is certainly ticking. Still, the chance to reflect in this blog and hopefully develop strategies to build on difficulties should ensure I still have plenty to write about.

 

Recent Links worth checking out:

– Those who have been interested in my work exploring the use of diigo in the classroom may also be interested to read Katt Blackwell-Starne’s blog. She is planning to use diigo over the coming year to investigate if it can help improve students’ writing to specific audiences.

Doug Belshaw writes a series of excellent posts about how to use Cool Iris (a fantastic multimedia tool) for presentations; one for beginners, one for advanced. Well worth checking out.

References:

Richardson, W, (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful webtools for classrooms. London: Sage LTD.

An evaluation of using Diigo.com with students

Having used diigo with a class for a period of a few months (and now said class is off on exam leave and unlikely to be using it for a few months), I feel that now is a good time to reflect on how I’ve been using it in a classroom environment over the past few months, and to try and draw a few useful conclusions about it, for my own future use and for other people who are reading.

Initial thoughts/Contents

  • Diigo – its effect on my own habits as a practitioner of education
  • Tips/Tricks/Pitfalls of using it in the classroom
  • Where it needs to go in terms of development, to work better in the classroom
  • Final thoughts

 

Diigo – its effect on me.

Before I begin talking about the effect its had in class, I thought i’d reflect on how diigo has shaped my own practice. I have recieved so many fantastic links from the diigo in education group in the 4/5 months I’ve been a member, but with edmodo, glogster and netvibesstill to get to grips with, I think this is the biggest compliment I can play a group where some fantastic information is shared. It would be interesting, perhaps if we shared less technocentric articles as a group, but I suspect that I myself need to do some more investigating into this area.

I would reccomend all teachers with an interest in using web2.0 in their teaching to join this group.

 

Tips/Tricks/Pitfalls

Firstly, a bit of context. My students were A-Level ones, so reasonably mature (16/17) and the group was small (about 9) so I was on hand to support in a very intensive way that I suppose might not be available for younger, larger classes. What follows are some general thoughts on what went well, what didn’t go so well and things that you should absolutely do to make sure students use diigo properly:

  1. Always have a print out of the students’ username and password ready. Mine forget theirs. A lot.
  2. The first few times students are using diigo and its ‘sticky note’ feature, always start the lesson by reminding them that if they used this feature then they need to make sure that as soon as they start writing a note the select the drop down menu for the ‘privacy’ feature (see below). Students need to decide if the content they are writing is to be shared with the rest of the group (and most of the time with mine, it was), so they need to find the group you have assigned them to belong to and select that.diigoshare1
  3. Highlighting is fiddly! In its current state, a few students have managed to highlight whole parts of the website, rather than just the line or two I requested them to do. I don’t think this is deliberate: It’s the same when we get frustrated on word when the highlighter goes crazy. Remind students that if they make this mistake, they can right click on the highlight and an option should come up to erase it.
  4. Keep the diigo homepage open. It sounds silly, but a lot of mine forgot to and then sometimes had to go through a few steps to get back to. Remind them to open a seperate browser or tab when using the Internet.
  5. Making use of your group’s diigo homepage.My favourite tool is still this. I love the ability to review the annotations we’ve all made on one page, by clicking on the yellow box that I’ve highlighted round the red square below. It makes for a good plenary or start to the next lesson – challenging those sticky note annotations also increases their value and the respect you pay to the feedback students leave, something that leads into our next point.diigolesson2
  6. Moderating those pesky post-it notes. There’s nothing to stop students leaving inappropriate notes , publicly, but lets not forget that as long as a teacher is constantly refreshing the group’s homepage, its very easy to keep track of the sticky notes being left on the websites that have been bookmarked. I had one instance of a student posting an inappropriate sticky note, but because I immediately saw it and immediately asked the student to remove it, it seemed to be of little interest to the other students. Perhaps a more interesting notion to consider is the moderation of the conversation that can begin when students begin to respond to each others’ sticky notes…

An example would be when one of my students began to reply to other students’ sticky notes, without any prompting me (he had been absent and was techincally speaking a lesson behind us). ‘Great!’ I thought. But I quickly realised I didn’t like the replies he was leaving. Although they engaged critically with what they were replying to, the response was always on the negative side and came accross as not well balanced. One of my thoughts for the future then is how to continue to encourage discussion within diigo, but make sure that students recognise that rules of balance and discussion ought to be recognised in the same way that I always would expect in a classroom discussion.

 

Where next for diigo?

I was new to the whole social bookmarking thing, I admit. I completely skipped delicious, but it seems to me that a key difference between it and diigo is that diigo has more potential for taking the links found further. I know diigo is not a wiki and I think I have already shown ways in which the group’s homepage was used more effectively, but I would like to see more usability in the forum. As it stands, the forum feels limited. A good example would be that I wanted students to follow up on posts other students within the group. They hit reply and get the text contained in that post and the ability to reply to it. Good so far. But when they click submit then their new post gets dumped right at the bottom of the thread, sometimes mile away from the post they’re replying to. My students and I found it a bit confusing and I think a stranded approach to posts (plus the ability to easily add in some tricksy multimedia like this ‘ere wp), would continue to mean that you can use diigo in interesting ways to draw out deeper learning from students.

 

Final thoughts

I will be using diigo again next year. With slightly tighter e-safety controls (which I suspect we will get when the next round of changes arrives), I intend to try and use it with much younger students. I like that I can easily create accounts for students and I don’t need a long list of their email addresses first. I remain most impressed by how much diigo enabled students to vocalise their thoughts about poetry in a way that gave them more security and space to do it, without feeling pressured to call out the ‘right’ answer in class. My hopes as I continue with developing the use of diigo is that others (particularly in different subjects), might discover interesting and different ways of using it for something as idiosyncratic as poetry. This in turn will lead to more ideas for everyone involved.

Conceptually diigo addresses some big problems that face students today; put simply it enskills them to use the internet in an open way, where the debates that need to be had, on things randing from validity of information to building collective knowledge as a group are interrogated.

Teaching a lesson using diigo – part 2

  

The second lesson using diigo gave me an opportunity to consolidate what had worked well the first time I’d used it with a class and also to try and provide more of a framework to make sure students used the features on diigo to give them a challenging learning experience.

Students were to look at three different websites, each containing a different poem by W.H. Auden. On each site they would be required to highlight and explain a different piece of information from the poem. They would then be required to synthesise the three seperate explanations they had given about the poems into a conclusion on the overall message contained in Auden’s poetry, which they would post on the forum on our diigo group’s homepage.

Students had one lesson’s prior experience of using diigo and got on with the initial part of the lesson quickly. I had to remind them to select the ‘share with mr.w’s lit group’ option when writing their post it-notes, otherwise they would have stayed private on the students’ diigo accounts, but this was the only time I had to verbally remind students of something to do with the ‘using diigo’ area.

The quality of annotations

One thing that’s been fantastically exciting about watching my students interact with diigo is the ease at which they engage with writing about the poems I have asked them to look at. The class I teach is not particularly unusual and its certainly not particularly unusual (as other English teachers may well sympathise with), to ask people to have a discussion about a poem they’ve just read, only to be greeted by hesitant silence, until the teacher encourages and starts teasing things out. Why? I guess poetry can be an intensely personal thing, and I think sometimes our kids find it hard to open up about it.

Here are just a few examples of some of the feedback they left:

blogdiigoexp6

There is a good combination of analysis here, some from a personal response, others more based on reasoning

 
Even if I didn’t want to explore other aspects of diigo than just poetry, I’d be very happy with this, because I’m always looking for students to feel more comfortable in sharing their opinions and it seems clear to me that in these responses they have. 

Posting in the forum

The post I created on the forum which gave instructions for how students should complete the final part of the lesson.

The post I created on the forum which gave instructions for how students should complete the final part of the lesson.

 Students then assembled their various annotations and were required to look at them together. They would find me forum post that (hopefully) gave them clear instructions on what they needed to do to synthesise the informations together into a conclusion about Auden’s poetry. Having the forum linked to the main site worked well because students have a ‘base’ that they can keep coming back to (and easily get hold of the annotations they’ve got, without having to go back onto the website). If there’s anything I’d like to see in the future, its an extension of the group home pages, maybe even a wiki-type level of editing possible to the homepage itself – maybe the creation of different students pages, based on the research they’ve done?

Time was the only slight problem here – students did work at different rates, one finishing ten minutes early (but I was able to immediately review his post and suggest other areas of discussion) and a few only just finishing. I’d attribute some of this to getting used to the technology, but I will also monitor this more closely in future lessons and see if there is any kind of pattern to it.

 Key points to take forward:

  1. Would be nice to begin to use the posts that have been generated to encourage discussion  between students – currently they are sharing bookmarks, but not necessarily the feedback and thoughts they are giving on them.
  2. Will need to examine more closely how students are finding the timings I am giving on tasks.
  3. Annotations are encouraging the students to speak their mind more about the poetry – a fantastic plus.

Recognising the internet isn’t all *that*

With all the internet research going on in my classroom, I’ve been wanting to do a ‘clarifying why the internet is excellent, but why you need to be careful as well.’ Our kids take information far too much for granted and its likely that a key skill employers will demand in the future is recognising and discerning patterns and correlation in information, rather than the information itself.

Langwitches has jump started me a bit by finding some wonderful links here. It so happens that my current Year 11  are coming up to their exams, where they can often get tested on the difference between fact and opinion and how presentational devices are used in media texts (i.e. the internet). So, I should be able to deliver a lesson that gives them exam practice and gives them a better recognition of the positives and negatives of sifting for information on the internet. Just another day in walking the tightrope that is teaching, then?

The share tab I created which links to all the ‘spoof’ websites is here.

First thoughts on using diigo in class….

 

 

Yesterday I used diigo for the first time with students in my class. I’d previously had to consider the always prevalent issue of e-safety when getting ready to use this website with my students. Diigo makes this problem relatively easy to solve, because student accounts that you can create are much more restricted than a typical diigo account – essentially they can interact with the sites you create for them, but other users can’t add them. I also created a student account for my head of department, so she could see what I was doing (something we’re always asked to do so as to protect ourselves from accusations of inappropriateness). I’m curious as to how other teachers feel restricted in this sense, if its the same in other countries in terms of reticence about students using the internet?

So anyway, onto the lesson. I had 8 sixth form students and they were just beginning to study the poetry of W.H. Auden for A Level. I split my hour long lesson into three parts, hoping to achieve 3, relatively straightforward objectives by the end of the lesson. These were:

  1. Get logged onto diigo and favourite the ‘diigolet’ toolbar.
  2. Read a poem that I’d already annotated using the sticky note feature and then leave their annotations
  3. Find and bookmark some appropriate websites for W.H. Auden.

Broadly speaking, we’d achieved all three by the end of the hour, with a bit of time to spare, which was pleasing. Here’s some reflection on how the 3 different things went:

1. Starting up Diigo.

I was worried – the internet had been very slow in the morning and crashing a fair bit. Thankfully by the time we started it seemed to be back to normal. In fact the only problem was that students barely wanted to keep up with me; as soon as they got the piece of paper they were into the site and doing the things they should be! Within five minutes or so we were ready to go. The age of these students is 17 so I suppose you could argue they’re technically more proficient than younger student would be: I hope to be able to try it with younger students if this ends up being a sucess.

2. Annotation.

Perhaps the first tricky bit. Students found the page alright and loaded up the diigolet toolbar. They had to pick a line from W.H. Auden’s ‘Stop the Clocks’ poem and explain why they thought it was the most important in the poem.

They were very focused during this task, much more so than when they had to find bookmarks (more on why I think this is later). While not all of them quite got that when you can highlight you can leave a sticky note (and so just left a random sticky note bubble near the line), they all completed the task to a good standard, which you can see in the page’s current state, and some of their responses, which are also below.

Why were they most engaged here? Well I suppose it comes back to that age old dilemma about new technologies in classrooms; if they’re not clearly scaffolded with outcomes then even the best intentioned students can start to wonder. Out of all the activities I did with them, this was the one where the outcomes were probably the clearest.

The view from the now student annotated page. More than one of them picked the same line, hence the fact that only two or three are highlighted.

The view from the now student annotated page. More than one of them picked the same line, hence the fact that only two or three are highlighted.

 

Here are some of the comments left by the students. They have successfully highlighted the lines (which show up in green), with their 'sticky note' comments in yellow. I was impressed with the level of depth in their annotations.

Here are some of the comments left by the students. They have successfully highlighted the lines (which show up in green), with their 'sticky note' comments in yellow. I was impressed with the level of depth in their annotations.

3. Bookmarking.Case in point with this. Students had to find at least 2 bookmarks for W.H. Auden. They all did this and they did it well, but when I tried to encourage them to use highlighting and sticky notes to give students some feedback (the bookmark as it appears on a diigo page also lets you look at highlights/notes without having to access the site itself), none of them seemed to do it. Perhaps they were relucant to ‘deface’ the websites with notes, but I had thought that the opportunity to do it first under my direction, would have gotten past that. They still got the bookmarks done though, and found some good websites (and I like how on our group’s homepage it has a box of top contributors, to encourage a healthy bit of competition).

Conclusions:

Students completed all the objectives I’ve set. They yet again showed a ‘savvy-ness’ with technology, wanting to steam ahead with the tutorial process, meaning we actually ended up having more time than I thought we would. Students were most engaged when completing a directed task from the teacher; annotating a poem I had bookmarked and leaving feedback on the website. They completed the bookmarking task, but lacked a certain independence in wanting to feedback the contents of the website they’ve found.

Future plans:

Much closer planning of activities using Diigo. I don’t want to restrict the sense of freedom it gives students, but I feel that they need to better understand the usefulness of the highlighting and sticky notes feature. Future lessons will try and adress this.