Monday, April 14, 2008

Another Look at Blogs and Blogging for Professional Development

Blogs & PD & RSS

Blogs and blogging for my professional development in this course has been thought-provoking, educational and a phenomenal experience for me! The opportunity to learn through collaboration by sharing information, thoughts, ideas and asking questions on blogs positively supports my learning. I can now relate and clearly understand that, “Sharing thoughts through self publishing and harnessing the collective intelligence of all users to generate information and solve problems, creates huge changes in how educators (me) and students (myself and those I teach), receive and respond to information. (Next Wave Now: Web 2.0-2007) Accessing various educational blogs and the actual process of blogging for professional development is how I keep and will continue to keep informed of the latest trends and developments in education and teacher librarianship. Blogging enables me to share and reach out to my colleagues with questions and innovative ideas.

Stephen Abram in Teacher Librarians: Sharing and Taking Care of Themselves (Sept/Oct2007) - mentions that he follows about 600 blogs a day, to try and get a sense of what is happening in all types of libraries. I look at a few blogs everyday and that is enough for me at this point in time. He has an extensive list of favourite blogs related to teacher librarianship, school libraries and learning technologies which I have 9 of, so I think it is a pretty good start. By having created my own blog and commenting on our classmates’ blogs and other educational blogs I am able to get ideas out into the world at an amazing speed which benefits me and others.

In the blog, Library Garden(2006) one of the contributors, Robert Lackie blogs about librarians and educators using Web 2.0 technologies which include blogging to communicate, interact, share, create and publish information online. This is exactly what we have been doing in EDES 545! Accessing Library Garden has influenced me to assess how effectively I connect with those who currently access the library at my school and those who will in the near future.

He also suggests that we try setting up a library blog and that we start receiving library or other related topics using RSS feeds via Bloglines. Jennifer had also suggested we do this at the beginning of our course, which I did although at the time I did not realize how beneficial it would be.

As our course progressed, I was amazed at all the information on other blogs online about education, teacher librarianship, technology and so many other related topics. I realized I wanted to be able to access them with ease and remain current. That is when I started to pay attention to what RSS was all about. Browser based Real Simple Syndication aggregator was indeed the solution as readers like me can subscribe to content on blogs and at many other sites. The feeds, also known as RSS feeds, XML feeds, syndicated content or webfeeds, contain frequently updated content published by a website. They are also used for distributing other types of digital content like pictures, audio or video.

When you first view a website, if feeds are available, the Feeds button will change color. You simply click the Feeds button and then click the feed you want to see. You can subscribe to a Feed to get content automatically which I have done and have experienced reading up to date material many times now. You can view your feeds by going to the tab in the Favorite Centre and clicking the star button then click the Feeds button. So easy and so amazing that current material can be accessed with speed and efficiency with just a click of a special button!

Blogging & Professional Development

Teacher librarians, who are isolated from others in their field, benefit from blogging in order to keep up with the latest research, share information and receive support from others in the profession. The article Ending Isolation ( Sept.2006) gives an example of this. However, it also reminds me of our own class. We are scattered all over Canada, but through blogging we can connect, learn, share and support one another in our professional development.

According to Laurel Clyde, author of Weblogs & Libraries not only do blogs bring current trends and issues to our attention, but they also allow us to keep up to date by reading and participating on library and information weblogs. I personally want to know what are the latest developments, how are other educators using Web 2.0 tools in their schools, what issues do they have to address and how do they effectively address them.
Subscribing to educational blogs and utilizing the RSS feeds keeps me current and answers questions I might have. I have learned that there is a lot of support that we can access.

One of the benefits of blogging for professional development is the opportunity to build my own professional network with my colleagues in this class. I can comment on their thoughts and links and they do the same for me. I feel much more confident about the possibility of going on the ‘gurus’site to leave comments and ask questions too. The following quotation is so applicable to our situation in this class. “Learning with others makes the difference, since learning is a social process…and has now gone online with blogs. Learning with others means you take control of the flood of information and data coming into your life.” (Miguel Guhlin – Blogs: Webs of Connected Learning – 2006)
Teacher librarians and educators like us, need to start leaving comments and linking those back to our own blogs for our own professional development, to learn more and to share knowledge. I will most definitely continue to do this even after this course is completed!

Examples of Blogs for Professional Development

As Dr. David Tobin notes in Building Your Personal Learning Network, blogs give us access to a variety of information sources and to people of whom we can ask questions, who can provide us with coaching and mentoring and who can challenge or extend our thinking and our professional development. There are a large number of blogs maintained by librarians and information specialists that provide valuable information. Deciding on which blogs to discuss in this section was a challenge as there are a number that I find very beneficial. One way to decide is by accessing well known bloggers sites such as Will Richardson and explores which weblogs they subscribe to. I must admit that when Jennifer asked us to subscribe to five educational blogs, at the beginning of the course, I depended on the list by Will. However, when I decided to update my blog, give it a fresh look and add more links, I took a more critical look at my original blogroll. I agreed with some of my choices but then added several more. I finally felt confident in knowing which blogs and bloggers truly influence and support my professional development and who I wanted to share with others. I look forward to accessing my classmates’ blogs to learn about some additional quality blogs and bloggers and to include some additional education blogs to my currently extensive blogroll!

Here are a select few blogs that I find very informative.

Anne Davis, EduBlogInsights covers many topics of interest to me such as collaboration, conferences, evaluation, literacy, professional development, social networking, teaching, Web 2.0, writing and many more. She is well known and well respected and her name appears in numerous articles. I like the fact that she has a lot of experience and knowledge to share.

David Warklick’s 2CentsWorth is a familiar blog to many of us. I appreciate Warklick’s open mindedness, his knowledge and his ability to share. According to David with regards to his blog, “It is a conversation. I blog to learn. I do not promise answers here. I will ask far more questions.” I would like mention that this is my philosophy on blogging too. I also blog to learn, and ask lots of questions and need to ask even more for my learning!

Doug Johnson speaks from the viewpoint of librarian and educational technology leader in his The Blue Skunk Blog. His blogs are quite amusing, full of witty comments, while encouraging his readers to think about libraries and technology in a different way. I have found that after reading his blog I do exactly that! Do I always agree with him? Not necessarily, but he does give us some inspirational ideas to consider and often in a humorous fashion!

Jenny Levine, the blogger behind The Shifted Librarian is well known for her knowledge of technology gadgets. She often posts information about ‘cool tools’, along with comments about how librarians could use them in their daily work. After reading her blogs, I am inspired to discuss cool tools in a blog that could be accessed by the teachers at my school. Sharing technology and getting their comments and feedback would be beneficial to my learning, support their learning and benefit the library. Jenny Levine is very good at explaining our profession and the role of technology in it. As she keeps telling librarians, the time to shift is now, hence the name, The Shifted Librarian!

Joyce Valenza’s Neverending Search is well known and one that I often check for updates on my RSS. I find that she frequently blogs and her topics are current and very practical, so I have to keep checking for updates which can be overwhelming at times. I don’t think that I will ever be able to keep up with her. Now that this course is winding down, it is amazing what a better understanding that I have of Joyce Valenza’s 21st Century School Librarian. We are truly living it!

I really enjoy the site of Hey Jude, created by Judy O’Connell from Australia. She has a lot of practical ideas on her well organized blog. I particularly like to access the section on her blog about Judy’s Web 2.0 tools. She has selected ones that she feels are beneficial to students and educators. Judy very deservingly was awarded Best Librarian blog at the 2006 EduBlog awards. (See her comment that she left on my blog in response to SNS security issues and concerns from last week’s blog assignment.)

Will Richardson, Weblogg-ed is another popular blogger that I return to. His site is dedicated to discussions and reflections on the use of various Web 2.0 tools. Will discusses the use of blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasts, social bookmarking and other read-and-write technologies. His site is one that I would utilize with staff to support their learning of various web tools and how to successfully apply them in the classroom. I am hoping to purchase his book for our Professional Library at my school.

Closing Thoughts on Blogs/Blogging for Professional Development

The blog tracking and searching site Technorati published the following statistics in April 2007,

- 70 million weblog
- about 120,000 new weblogs each day, or 1.4 new blogs every second
- 1.5 million posts per day, or 17 posts per second
- growth from 35 million to 75 million blogs in 320 days

I personally had no idea of the popularity of blogging. The statistics are incredible and impressive! More and more educators are becoming active in blogging including myself!

Michael Stephens, the author of the article Tools from Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software Revisited (2007) discusses that, librarians join the blogosphere to participate in a community, share expertise and gain recognition within the field. According to Stephen’s, today, the library blog has become its own platform and I would have to agree with him. We know that almost anything can be embedded in a blog now from Flickr, to audio (podcasts, voicethreads, avatar), to video (YouTube). I have explored these tools in this course and hope to introduce some to our staff and students when blogging.
Eventually, if not already, school boards will look for administrators with experience blogging and using other technologies. I am planning on applying to administrative positions with our school board and will add a technology strand to my vitae upon completion of this course!

Mary Ghikas, The Green Kangaroo Blog discusses her amazement at the vitality and generosity of the professional exchange that takes place on blogs. Like her, I too have shamelessly grabbed references to other blogs and web sites, as well as to interesting papers and new books to read. She is also struck by the reflectiveness of many posts, the thoughtful consideration of context, of related issues and concerns of evaluation. Last of all, she is amazed by the personal voice within the blogs which reveal frustrations, happiness, anger and optimism. I have read and felt these emotions in my colleagues blogs and am learning to develop my own personal voice and feelings when blogging.

I have discovered that I find blogging quite gratifying! I look forward to viewing my colleagues’ posts and how they approached the various Web 2.0 tools that we have explored in this course. I find myself reading and checking out their links which connects to other interesting sites which leads me deeper into my learning. It is like a domino effect! I am beginning to feel more confident in my abilities to effectively blog. I look forward to continuing blogging and accessing blogs for my professional development. Learning from others and sharing with my fellow educational bloggers has and will continue to be a part of my ever evolving teaching profession.

I would like to leave you with this closing thought on blogs and blogging for professional development…

"You have great ideas. You’ve done great work. Keeping your innovations and learning to yourself, won’t let your light spread. Everyone can find 15 minutes a week to blog about something they learned or did that week; comment on an idea in Ning, on a wiki or on a blog or start an article preferably with a partner. Share. Your ideas will spread, and learning and libraries will improve. To paraphrase the old saw, in times of extreme change the spoils go to the learners-not the learned.”." (Stephen Abram- Teacher Librarians: Sharing and Taking Care of Themselves)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Final Thoughts and Reflections of EDES 545

When the opportunity came to sign up for this course, I was quite eager to do so as I was aware of the need to become more technologically literate. However, there was a lot of anxiety that came with this need as I did not feel overly confident in being able to understand the technology of the 21st century learner. Admittedly, I am ‘digital immigrant’ but I really, really wanted to be a ‘digital native’!! So, I took and deep breath and jumped in!

I can honestly say that when I went through the course outline I had heart palpitations! Lots of readings really didn’t intimidate me, rather they are a tool that I welcome, to support my learning and understanding. Blogging and blog topics with Web 2.0 tools… yikes! I quickly learned to read and read and read more to find out about these tools. I liked the fact that Jennifer used the term ‘explore’ and that is exactly what I did! This process was ‘hands-on’ learning which for myself was very effective. One can read all they want but unless they actually try the tool, only partial learning will occur.

Connecting these tools to our teaching and learning really makes one critically examine how they teach. Throughout this course I would often reflect back on a quote that I came across; ‘There is a major shift that is critical to our classrooms, not only in what we teach our students, but also how we teach our students.’ (David Warlick) This course encouraged me to critically analyze my teaching strategy and philosophy and gave me the courage to implement change to positively affect student learning.

My cup overfloweth comes to mind when reflecting on all the readings and discussions that we had on our blackboard. Reading the topics for discussion and having to make a decision as to which one to focus on and respond to was a challenge at times. Truly I wanted to read them all but realistically I couldn’t. If you were a random abstract learner before, you had to make adjustments and become a concrete sequential learner or you would not accomplish very much. I mentioned the domino effect in one of my blogs when it comes to accessing information in this course. A reading would have references that you would check out which would have references to other writers or topics and so on. A classmate would share an article read that connected to another article and so on. There were days that I wanted to curl up with my computer and immerse myself in reading and responding to it all but alas my wiki was waiting!

The opportunity to work with a partner on creating a wiki and supporting a discussion was very worthwhile. Not only did I learn about wikis but I was able to develop some skills using the SNS of Facebook for educational purposes. Katie and I corresponded and planned on Facebook and continue to do so. I learned what an effective tool wikis are for sharing of information, thoughts and ideas. I can see so many possibilities for using them professionally with the staff and as a learning and sharing tool with students. I felt that the format used in learning about wikis was an excellent way to learn about the versatility of this tool with a partner and through the opinions and shared information from others.

Deciding which Web 2.0 tool to use to share with my staff as a professional development opportunity was not too difficult as blogs support writing and that is a focus for our school. What made this assignment somewhat challenging was limiting what to include in the paper. I wanted to share details on how I would present this tool to my staff with links to all the great information that I have accessed in this course from articles, other seasoned bloggers and from information my classmates have accessed throughout this course. I am looking forward to reading about the PD choices my classmates have made and perhaps incorporating them into future professional development days at my school.

Reading, discussing, sharing, partnering, exploring, creating, and participating are all effective learning strategies that enabled this course to be so successful for me.
I will admit that there were times that I felt overwhelmed and learning to plan and balance the workload became critical at times. The flexibility that Jennifer showed when making adjustments to our final assignments was very intuitive on her part and greatly appreciated. I can be my own worst enemy as I have high expectations of myself. I found that I spent a great deal of time on my assignments and readings and I began to loose my personal voice in my blogging. It was Jennifer who pointed this out to me and made me realize that academically I had a good understanding of the material but I needed to remember my role in the equation. I will not forget this and plan to continue blogging with a more personal voice on educational matters, issues and challenges.

An overall message that I am taking away from this course is that students today learn differently and I will need to change the way I look at teaching and how I teach in order to reach them and be an effective educator. Perhaps I am a ‘digital immigrant’ but after taking this course I feel that I am closing the gap and coming closer to understanding and developing my technology skills to those of a ‘digital native’.

“Todays education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn.” (21st Century Learning)

Web 2.0 Tool of Choice

Blogging is my tool of choice for sharing on a professional development day because it positively affects student learning in numerous ways. Will Richardson on his blog Weblogg-ed, discusses the positive impact of blogging; it enhances student writing, helps students find a voice, creates enthusiasm for writing, engages students in conversations, provides an opportunity to learn about responsible journalism and empowers students.

Some background and history of our school provides the connection as to why Blogs and Blogging is a good tool of choice for our staff to explore during a professional development day to utilize in their teaching. Currently our school is very much involved in a writing focus. One of our School Development Plan goals is to develop and support student writing skills. Our school is involved with the AISI project of Assessment for and of Learning and has initiated meaningful assessment of student writing skills through the use of rubrics and self assessment. Teachers have received various training sessions related to writing, including Six Write Traits in order to support student writing.

Although some teachers may be aware of blogs, there will be some that will need more of an explanation. Introducing this topic would be accomplished by sharing the video, What is a Blog? found on YouTube. (Arrangements would be needed to have the site unblocked at my school) The commentary on this video clearly explains blogs with the use of a ‘Wine Blog’ site as an example. There will be teachers who question the benefits of blogs and blogging. Without going too deeply into my own experience in this course and all the amazing readings and my own learning, I would share with them The 8 Ways Blogging Makes Me a Better Teacher.

By having each teacher create their own blog, I anticipate support of their own personal learning and understanding of student writing. Through accessing various educational blogs that discuss writing and to learn first hand about the challenges and successes of writing through blogging, their own writing skills will develop.

Time would be taken to share some blogs including my own. Although I am not as experienced as some bloggers such as Joyce Valenza and Will Richardson, the staff relates more to me and I would be able to convince them that if I can blog so can they! Taking them on a tour of my own blog would enable me to point out some special features of blogging such as the various Web 2.0 tools explored, the sidebars with various lists of bloggers and blogs that can be accessed and comments made by my colleagues and outside bloggers.
Some other blogs that I would share with them consist of ones that I personally find very informative, user friendly, current, and support the development of Web 2.0 technologies and libraries:

Hey Jude (very user friendly and informative)
Blue Skunk (this would appeal to our Grd 5/6 Teacher, who provides Tech support and has a great sense of humour including sarcasm)
Library Garden (may appeal to some of my colleagues who are intimidated by independently blogging on a regular basis as it is a group effort)
The Fisch Bowl (great for support of technology in the classroom)
Weblogged (Will Richardson, he is so knowledgeable and covers a lot of information)
Neverending Search ( Joyce Valenza – a guru!)
Cool Cat (introduces a number of technology tools)

The teachers would then be encouraged to discuss with their students about writing and have the students create their own individual blogs. Blog Basics for Classrooms is an excellent site for teachers to access to learn about blogging with students as it is user friendly and very visually appealing. In order to encourage students to initially write, the focus for writing on their blogs would include topics of interest specific to them. Student blogs would give them personal responsibility of their own learning. They would be able to express how they personally feel about something and let their opinions be heard. We want them to write, however we would also need to discuss what an appropriate topic choice is and why. At this time, it would be important to discuss security issues related to blogging and share this link as it is a list of tips for staying safe online for tweens and teens.

The importance and benefits of leaving comments on blogs needs to be discussed with the staff. Sharing an informative link on guidelines (10 tips for a better weblog) for good blogging would be useful. Encouraging all staff to comment on student blogs and students to comment on one another’s blogs is important as it will make their learning more relevant and meaningful. Students will learn from one another and so will the teachers learn from their students and in turn learn from one another. As we have experienced in this course, receiving comments is so motivating and inspirational!

Just as we have participated in reflecting in this course, we need to encourage our staff and students to do the same on their blog. As Anne Davis discusses on her blog, EduBlog Insights, we need to let our students write their way into their own understandings and discover answers to the questions they need to ask. We need to let them be creative, off the wall, and branch out with their own thoughts. Through reflecting on their blogs, staff can discuss and share their thoughts about writing and issues in education.
By now the staff and students should be well on their way to blogging for professional and personal development.

Where do we go from here?
The importance of continuing to blog needs to be emphasized to both staff and students. I would encourage them to ask questions on their blogs as other teachers and students may have an answer or an opinion that they could share by leaving a comment. I would encourage them to create a separate blog entry on a particular subject of interest. I would remind them to access other educators’ blogs as someone ‘out there’ with similar interests may have something significant and relevant to say that will support their learning or understanding. Sharing thoughts on their blogs with regards to writing as an adult, student writing and addressing challenges and assessment issues will be effective for their professional development. I would remind the staff and students to subscribe to their classmates blogs as well as other educational blog sites to experience many different perspectives.

On additional PD days the focus would be sharing some ‘cool tools’ that could be embedded on staff blogs, like podcasting, VoiceThread, and Flickr.
Once the staff is more confident and more knowledgeable regarding the use of these Web 2.0 tools, we can introduce them and teach our students to do the same. This particular professional development topic would be very collaborative as now the teachers would be experienced bloggers and could contribute to the planning and focus of a ‘Cool Tool’ professional development day.

Blogs and blogging is a very practical and effective Web 2.0 tool to introduce to my staff on a Professional Development day. Blogs support the development of our own writing skills, and student writing skills, provides access to quality educational blogs which deepens our understanding of writing and enables us to express our opinions, concerns and ask questions relating to writing.

“Blogging makes us better as professionals but it also makes our classroom better.”
(Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher Blog)