Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chiming in on Diigo

Much like I feel in love with Obama after seeing this video, I got hooked on Diigo after a similarly stimulating four minutes. :) Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little....

A friend tweeted out the above noted video for the Diigo Beta V3 this week and it kicked off a firestorm. I've been playing with Diigo all week, just like the rest of the Twitter Freaks, and am really intrigued. While most of my friends in the network are excited at how Diigo combines the tools from Delicious, Facebook, and Zotero, I'm just ecstatic about annotated url's. Sounds a little strange to say outloud but let me explain.

I hate textbooks. I don't use them, and so far have been lucky enough to avoid them in my four years of teaching. I've always known there was a reason I didn't like them. Used to think it was because they only promoted rich white men, and were super boring, but besides that couldn't put my finger on why they made me so uncomfortable. Then I read James Loewen's book called Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and it all made sense. Between him and Howard Zinn, I decided that I would do my best to avoid textbooks during my teaching career.

Normally I research sites on the web and then direct kids to those sites when I want them to get a piece of info. Sometimes its complicated because I say things like, "click here, read the 3rd and 7th paragraphs." That's pretty silly but without cutting and pasting to create a new document, that was my only option. Enter Diigo. I can go to a site, highlight the passages I think are the most relevant, comment (sticky note) on those passages and produce an annotated url that I can give to my students. That special url comes complete with highlights and comments from me or from everyone who has annotated that page if I wish.

I teach online. Only online. So every lesson I create for my students, whether its for the Web 2.0 class I'm developing for next year, or the Travel course I made last year, all my resources come from searching the Internet. Diigo is a one stop solution to including that material in my courses. There are still some pretty gnarly quirks they have to figure out (annotations don't work all the time, 'twitter this' function is spotty, and lots of stalls in application processing) the potential is ridiculous. And thats after only one week of playing, there is still way more to learn.

For a comprehensive analysis of the social networking benefits of Diigo, check out Kristin Hokanson's blog from earlier this week.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Web 2.0 Spreading Like a Subtle Rash

So I had a really good technology day at work. A few more teachers at my ONLINE HS are moving towards using Web 2.0, taking active steps to incorporate it in their personal lives and online courses. Yes, those are separate... for some. Geez, I need to get off this computer.

It started this morning when our lead Website Designer who is also an education technology assistant at our school asked me about Web 2.o. He said that the NCCE conference last week really got him thinking about the education possibilities for the first time. He came to ask me if I would like to participate in a video he wants to create and put up on Youtube. He was excited about creating media (podcasts, videos) that kids could watch anywhere and use to learn on the run. Then I brought up the idea of the "democratization of learning" and he about lost his mind. Loved it. Wanted to hear all about how to get kids to create their own learning experience. This is good news. A lot of the teachers ask him for help, if he becomes another voice of progress at our school then the 2.0 Rash might get airborne.

A couple hours later a teacher and I were talking about blogs in our courses. I use them, she isn't quite there yet. She teaches in the other hybrid component of our school which is a face-to-face elective course and only recently has begun knocking down those four walls. Our blog conversation led to RSS Feeds and pretty soon I was helping her set up her Google Reader and hooked her up with two must read edublogs: and 2 Cents Worth.

Worlds are a changing, the wind is blowing through our building, I can feel just the slightest barometric shift.

Last and most certainly least, I received a new course shell in my ridiculously difficult to use CMS today. It was a gift of my admin who approved a slightly innovative elective course I've been mentally developing since a nagging thought kept me awake all night about 2 months ago. Its a Web 2.0 course where I teach students how to use all the main online tools that many of us are using already, however, only a small handful of my school's students are using right now. The kicker is, it's 100% cross-curriculum. I will help the kids learn how to use the project tools, but the content for all of their projects will come from their 5 other online courses. For example, they will create an xtimeline using all of the material from a unit in their U.S. History course. Maybe their core teachers will let them get cross-credit for the project they develop in my course, maybe not. But no matter what they will learn more than they would if they just did it one way. Especially if that one way was a very old fashioned way, and that will a rash.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Over 200 Kids in our Social Experiment

Its been several weeks since I posted and undoubtedly the main reason why is because of the social network we are testing out at my online school. Plain and simple, its time consuming.

Really time consuming.... but worth it.

Last school year I began running groups through Facebook as a way to extend my classroom and get more kids actively engaged. Then I moved to my own Ning network the first semester of this year. It was all volunteer and I was only able to get about 30 of my online kids to sign up. There just wasn't enough energy created with such a small group of kids in the network.

In January, I decided that I wanted to expand the network and run a pilot program with several other teachers. We all invited our students, over 500 out of the 725 at our school, and the network began expanding rapidly. With that expansion come quirks and frustrations, but there is something really great going on in our student network. We have 205 students right now and more are joining everyday as the word gets out. Here are some of my initial Pros and Cons after 4 weeks of operation.

1. At an online school there isn't much opportunity for socializing. Our network is really helping to fill that void for some students.
2. Students are starting their own groups. There is a writing group, a music group, a teen help group and many more. Really cool stuff happening there.
3. Students have an opportunity to help each other with school. Before the network, you basically had to randomly meet someone on campus who just happened to be in your online course, or blindly email them from that course, if you wanted to contact them. Now we have a place where kids can communicate about their classes, teachers and other school related issues.
4. While there have been some music uploads and some innapropriate language, for the most part kids are taking ownership of this network and not misusing it.

1. It takes a ton of time. I am logged into the network all day and night until bed. The main issues are moderating comments. We have to be careful students aren't blatantly misusing the network because our parent complaints could cause admin to shut us down at any moment. Its a BIG job monitoring the network with that responsibility.
2. We have some quirky computer issues at our school. Since students come once a week for 4 hours, at any given time there is about 80 kids on campus. They are all using thin clients which connect to several main servers. When a student in Classroom A is on Odyssey of the Mind, another student in Classroom C could log into the first persons account. Beyond teaching kids to sign out of webpages when they are finished with them, not sure how this is fixable. Its a hardware issue that I have no control over or suggestions of how to work around. yuck!

I can only think of two cons, thats pretty good :)

Right now the teachers involved in OOTM are letting the kids get accustomed to the network and socialize. This is a very good thing and helps lay the foundation for what we can do with them once they have bought into the value of this network. However, pretty soon I would like to get kids more actively involved in their course work. Our assistant principal is doing a fantastic job of this with his Government class and has set a good example of what we can do in the near future.

I'm not sure its enough that we have the network just to allow kids to feel more connected to our school. I'm not sure the network is doing everything it can if we only create community. Those are big, but not quite enough. We have to use the network to really get our kids learning on a collaborative level.