Eeny Meeny Miny Moe – and these tools are it!

Deciding which tools to use for interactive purposes in our blended prototype felt a bit like a game of eeny meeny miny moe. With so many tools to choose from how can one possibly decide which tools are the best for what you are trying to accomplish. Fortunately my team and I were able to decide which tools we want to use without much debate. We are going to be using Canvas as our LMS so we will be using some features of that site as well as twitter and blogs. I will go into more detail as to why we selected these methods but I want to start with the quote from Shaping the Metaphor of Community in Online Learning Environments: 

For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge.

This quote really stood out to me and validated the tools we have selected as our community building tools. Nancy, Andrew and I have had a lot of discussions around Twitter and how much we have grown to love it over the past few semesters. I have said this before and I’ll said it again for anyone who hasn’t heard me say it before – I used to think Twitter was pointless and really served little purpose. I didn’t fully understand the value in it. Looking back I now realize that I felt that way because I wasn’t using it to it’s full potential. I didn’t follow a lot of meaningful people, I didn’t understand how to use hashtags to my advantage and didn’t feel it was possible to share something meaningful in 140 characters. Twitter has become one of the most beneficial tool for me as a teacher. It has provided me with great resources, professional development and connections with other amazing teachers – all for free! I have really developed my PLN (personal learning network) and I can’t imagine my teaching career without twitter. I the teacher in this video has done an excellent job of discussing PLN’s and the role twitter plays in developing your PLN.

It is possible for students to build a PLN and we plan to encourage our students to build their PLN through using a course hashtag (which is yet to be decided) as well as hootsuite or tweetdeck. Students will be asked to interact on twitter by sharing articles, retweeting and quoting tweets from classmates within the class as well as people from outside of the class. By using hashtags students will be able to reach out and connect with others far beyond the four walls of our classrooms which will in turn help them improve the community within our classroom by sharing resources and information.

Another way we feel that an online learning community can be established is through blogs. George Couros shares 5 reasons why students should be blogging including developing a positive digital footprint, giving students a voice and allowing for student reflection. It is a great way for students to document their learning and share what they have been doing in class. Through comments on each others blogs the online community can further be established. Like Liz pointed out, it is important to consider digital citizenship and be sure that students are commenting respectfully and mindfully. Being that we are doing a digital citizenship course prototype we will be focusing on this early on in the semester. Students will be expected to follow classmates blogs through an RSS platform such as Feedly. Feedly is a user friendly way to follow blogs without having to go back to the individual blog and check to see if a new post has been written. We felt that this would be easier to use than creating a blog hub.

The last way that we thought we can try to establish a community is through the discussion feature on Canvas. An edutopia article lists many benefits to using a discussion board in an online course including critical thinking, improved reading & writing skills and reflection. The article also suggests having students come up with the guidelines for using the discussion board and just like Sarah I feel like this would be a really great idea. The chart discussing Bloom’s Taxonomy in relation to activities for discussion boards really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for activities through a discussion board. Although I see the discussion board being used primary for students to connect with one another to ask questions or get help with information related to the course I can see it be useful to have an activity thrown in there every once in a while too.

I feel like there are so many other tools we could have selected but I feel like these are the tools that will help our students build a community online, much like I have experienced in all of my EC&I classes with Alec and Katia.

Are there any other great tools we have overlooked for our course prototype in terms of building community online?


Blogging and Numbers. Does it add up?

Blogging. How can we use it in the classroom? How can we get students involved? Is it something that  should be graded? If so, how? How can blogs be integrated into a class that doesn’t involve a lot of writing? And finally how do my students find time to complete their blog posts? These were all questions I had when reading the articles for class this week.

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Enokson via Compfight cc

I want to focus on the article that I took the most away from this week. Michael Drennan’s article Blogging in the Classroom: why your students should write online provides some great arguments for having students blog. I couldn’t agree more with the rewards outweighing the risks of having students blog. I especially like that plagiarism becomes pretty obsolete. It makes sense right? Why would a student risk plagiarizing when their work is public and can be seen by anyone on the web? The chances of being caught and being labeled as someone who steals the work of someone else. I also think it’s a great way to show student development and a way for students to learn from comments that their peers and others provide them. It’s a great way for them to share their work with someone other than their teacher. It also provides an opportunity for parents to follow along with their blog.

I came across 14 steps to meaningful student blogging and one of the ideas I struggle with is not grading the blogs. I understand why you wouldn’t assign a grade, but my worry is that my students wouldn’t blog if it wasn’t for marks. I guess I have a lot of questions with the whole assessment part of it. How often should students be blogging? If I don’t give them some type of grade/assessment, how do I motivate them to blog? Teaching high school and only seeing students for an hour a day creates another problem of finding the time for it to be done properly.

This leads me to my next problem. Integrating blogging into classes like Accounting and Math. I found a few ideas from different sites. I really like the idea of showcasing student work. Students can use an iPad and capture a screenshot or even take pictures of their notebook to be uploaded to their site. I would ask students to take it a step further and create a video to explain how they solved the problem. Here are five more ways that blogs can be used in a math class. I want to try have students write their own problems to post on their blog for others to try and solve. It might really make students think outside the box and it will also demonstrate their level of understanding.

Photo Credit: bjmccray via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bjmccray via Compfight cc

If anyone has any suggestions for ways to integrate blogs into a class that doesn’t usually involve a lot of writing, I’d love to hear from you. I’d also love to know if you grade your blog entries or how you assess them.

I feel like I have to comment on my personal blogging experience and some of the connections I made with the other articles this week. Just like Dallas, I was never really too keen on sharing my thoughts in a public space online. I used to feel like no one really cared what I had to say. But the more I blog and share on Twitter, the more connections I make with people who comment, retweet or follow me. It seems the more you share and the more you try to connect with others, the greater your voice becomes. It’s pretty neat to be able to connect with people who you’ve never even met before and know that you will both benefit from the connection by learning from each other.

I can relate to a lot of what Clive Thompson had to say in Why Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter. As Clive states, “when you feel like you are writing to an audience of 0 and suddenly you have an audience of 10 it’s quite something.” I know exactly how that feels. When I first started using Twitter I didn’t feel like anyone was “listening” or like anyone cared. Now that I have over 110 followers I think a lot more about what I am Tweeting and the audience I am reaching out to. I know 110 followers is NOTHING in the grand scheme of things, but I have been adding at least 3 followers per week since class started and I feel like I am gaining some ground giving me a larger audience.

Screen Shot of my Twitter page

Screen Shot of my Twitter page

When we think about who our audience is it changes the way we write. If I am writing an email to a friend it will sound a lot different than an email I write to a colleague or administrator. If I am writing a blog intended for my students it will sound different than one written for my peers. For myself writing is hard. I feel the pressure every time I set out to write a post. Sometimes when I try to just write and forget about who I am writing to it helps more. Most of the time I ask myself why am I writing this? Who am I writing to? Most of the time I am assuming my audience is my classmates and hopefully some other teachers that my blog reached. Understanding our audience and having a purpose for writing will change the way we write. We need to help our students with this process in order to give them the freedom to write and blog successfully.




Why blog when I can use Edmodo?

Last year I decided I wanted to start a class blog in order to keep students and parents updated with the daily happenings in my classroom. After spending a few days setting up a blog and organizing my classes I realized I didn’t really have a plan for my blog and it’s purpose. I didn’t know how to get started and wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it once I got it all set up. I think the idea of having a blog seemed ideal and like something a 21st century teacher should be doing. I had good intentions, but I wasn’t sure how to accomplish what I wanted to. I had also decided to use Edmodo and thought that between using Edmodo and a classroom blog that students would have too many places to check in on. I didn’t know how to manage both Edmodo and the blog so I decided to forgo the blog and focus on using Edmodo (which I LOVE by the way!).

For anyone unfamiliar with Edmodo is its a website/app that looks almost identical to Facebook. You create a homepage for each class and invite students to join you by giving them access to your page through an access code. Once students join your page they can see any status update you make. It creates an ongoing timeline (just like Facebook) of anything you post to that class. You can update statuses that include files, videos, links and photos. You can also set a time and date for a status to appear which is convenient in planning ahed. I like to use it to update daily homework, provide test reminders, attach any handouts from the lessons or update video resources. I have also had students submit assignments using Edmodo as well. Students who are away from school can stay updated with what happened and can even catch up on readings or worksheets by downloading the. Students may post to the timeline as well which allows you or other students to answer or comment on their post. Private messages may be sent from the student to you also. It makes communication super easy and convenient especially if you use the app. Using the app allows you to communicate with students anytime anywhere. It also allows you to update information if you are away from school. After using Edmodo for the last year, I really don’t know what I would do without it and will continue to use it moving forward. Here is a short video showing you Edmodo at a glance.

Having listed all the different ways I have used Edmodo I realize that there are a lot of other ways to use it that I will have to explore soon. I would highly recommend Edmodo to any English teacher as there are a lot of writing applications. I haven’t had much luck finding ways to integrate more math into Edmodo other than uploading videos as additional resources to a lesson. Maybe I could update a different math riddle each day? If you have used Edmodo in your math class I would love to hear from you. I also came across this list of ways to use Edmodo in different classes that might be worth checking out if you teach high school courses.

Now that I’ve talked up Edmodo enough, I need to get back to the purpose of this post. Why blog when I can use Edmodo? Last year I decided to give up the hopes of having a class blog and decided to go solely with Edmodo because it is a quicker way to update information and I really like the ease of communication between students and myself. I understand that if I wanted to provide more detailed information about something that a blog might be a better place to do that. I never really thought more about why I should have a class blog after I started working with Edmodo, but having started a blog for my graduate class I feel like I might be able to make it work in my classroom.

I have spent some time looking at different blogs on this edubloggers list and I have a better idea of the purpose a blog might have in my class. I do like that blogs can be public so they reach out to people beyond your classroom. Edublogs has created a list of ten ways to use your edublog as a teacher that provides some great ideas for using a blog to go beyond creating simple updates about your classroom. I like that students can be involved in the blogging process and can even have blogs of their own.

All that being said, I am still struggling to see the point of using a blog when I can use Edmodo to do the same thing only quicker. Maybe I am wrong and maybe you can help convince me otherwise. Do I stick with Edmodo and continue to forget about the blogging? Do I implement a blog for each of my classes (as a side note I teach high school math and business classes)? What is your experience with a teacher/class blog? How do you use it? I would love to hear from anyone with a blog and would love a link to your blog so I can check it out and see how you use it.