Developing blogging in the classroom

Introduction: As part of my ongoing work in collaborating with colleagues I have been trying to develop blogging with other colleagues within my school. This blog post is therefore co-edited by another of my colleagues within the school and is a combination of points developed in a meeting we had and a reflection on how we can use them next:

Richard’s noticing

Richard started off by showing how he had been using blogging with a couple of the Year 7 classes he teaches. Both Richard and Andy had previously worked out how to create blogs (which is detailed in this post) and so at the end of their last meeting they had decided to start trying to use it with one task on a few of our classes. Andy was interested in how the approach of using blogging for homework out of the lesson as a starting point for using it, had worked. This was different to Andy’s approach of using it firmly within the context of the lesson and showed that they already had developed different ideas about how the idea of blogging with a class could be used.

The responses from Richard’s homework blogs were promising; a number of students had completed the homework already and were now queued for Richard to ‘approve’ or ‘reject’. Richard again highlighted that this was an interesting option because it places increased emphasis on the value of what appears in the blog: if the students work was not quite up to the standard expected, then it could be sent back to the student for redrafting. This means that the final product of the blog post is given more value to the students, as they can see that the piece of work that have produced has met or exceeded the required standard.

Andy’s noticing

Andy showed Richard the way he had been using blogging with his Year 8 English class. Essentially the blog was being used as an opportunity for students to post their creative writing pieces. There were different examples available on the blog – some the ‘bite-sized’ mini-sagas they had produced (which must be exactly fifty words), and some postings were of the students Horror stories. Andy remarked that an issue with using blogging in class is that the teacher can quickly move away from being a facilitator to an administrator – especially with only being able to approve one blog post at a time. Nevertheless, what had been achieved was a blog that contained both further comments from the students on blog posts that weren’t just their own and some students had recognised the instruction to begin categorising their posts in the ‘Gothic Genre’ area; easier to find for future for reference.

Ideas for further development

  • Richard was interested in exploring getting students to comment on other students’ post, and categorising posts. Andy showed him how to do this and then they both discussed why both could be useful – Andy had used commenting as a way of encouraging peer assessment between the students’ story and had begun to try categorising because he wants to be able to keep using the blog throughout the year and wanted a way for students (and him) to organise and easily find the rapidly increasing amount of blog posts.
  • Andy was very interested in the idea of setting a blog post as homework. This could really help develop students’ reflective learning. It also places more value on homework, as the blog is something that could then be reflected on in another homework by other students, or within a classroom lesson.

We intend to meet soon after Christmas to further explore the issues raised in this post. Merry Christmas everyone!

Advertisements

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┬ásometimes 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