Creative Commons (Thing 10)

As a history teacher who spends a good deal of time teaching students research and writing skills, copyright, permission and citation, and appropriate usage are significant concerns for me.  A lot of my tenth-graders begin my class in this basic situation: (1) They know that research can be tedious and good sources hard to find.  (2) They know that plagiarism is a big “no-no.” (3) They are familiar enough with search engines and the internet to know that it’s really easy to find lots of information on almost anything, but with varying quality, veracity, and reliability, and have trouble discerning good from bad in these respects.  (4) They know that I am an advisor to the Honor Council, and assume that I secretly enjoy engaging them in a game of “gotcha,” where I try to catch them for plagiarism using standards and expectations that they don’t fully understand and view largely as a nuisance.

Of course, that’s (#4) not the case.  Instead, I spend what amounts to several days of class giving them a broad-ranging explanation of why copyright is necessary, where the idea came from and how it developed, how history research and research-based writing works, and why plagiarism is a legitimate concern rather than an annoying set of rules.  Most of them gain some better understanding of all this, a few of them actually think it’s interesting, and a few tune out.

Technology innovation has reshaped the educational and research processes–I’d be surprised if any of my CCES students knew how to use a card catalog, and most will never need to use inter-library loan.  The facility and ubiquity of internet resources for research have made the information-gathering process much easier.  And, technologies have made creation of content so easy that I had students who completed an entire video project last year on their smart phones.

So, Creative Commons makes sense.  Traditional copyright laws and standards were created for a time when proprietary rights were extremely important and the academic research process was built on incremental gains by a community of scholars (at least for history).  While these traditional procedures and models are still important, the Creative Commons system allows the needed flexibility for digital content creators to both protect their work and name, and also share the content broadly and easily.  I’m still getting familiar with the terminology and extent of permissions, but I like the concept a lot.

I’m still a “newbie” at having my students create content other than research papers.  But I’m hoping to do this more in coming years, and expect that Creative Commons will be a relevant and useful tool on both the research and production ends.  I’ve seen the CC logo all over the place, but for a lot of the materials that I and my students access–especially primary source materials–copyright and permission is not a huge deal, since older stuff tends to be free of copyright restrictions.

I think Creative Commons will also be helpful as I introduce and teach about research, copyright, plagiarism, etc., because the CC system’s different types of permissions explicitly spell out distinctions and “gray areas” that often puzzle students.


The Potential of Wikis (Thing 8)

OK, so wikis have been around for a while, right?   Wikipedia has been a well-used tool for years.  Its positive and negative features for education have been discussed ad nauseum.  I’ve been familiar with the basic workings of wikis for a while, but for some reason, I’ve never really considered wikis as a tool for students to create meaningful content.  So, this has been an eye-opening “thing” for me, and I’m excited about getting my students to use them.

Well, after this intro, I had typed out several more paragraphs of thoughts on a few wikis.  However, when I went to post, they disappeared into the ether, never to be recovered, and I don’t have the will to re-type them.  Oh well.  Suffice it to say that I thought the Wikihistoria and The Students’ History wikis were good, but prone to typical wiki flaws, especially considering their minimal editing and collaboration.  And I thought the Constitutional Convention Gets an Update was an incredible example of the creative and collaborative potential of wikis.  I’d like to use wikis in a manner similar to this latter one.

Learning from a Pre-school teacher (Thing 6)

One of the interesting things about browsing around for edublogs has been that it’s introduced me to lots of different sorts of teachers.  For example, one of the blogs I’ve started following in my reader is written by a preschool teacher in Seattle–not someone that I would expect to normally interact with or learn from.  But I came across a fascinating post he wrote on a creative project done by his preschoolers, using industrial waste to create a rainbow curtain.  Honestly, I found his pictures and writing so compelling that I wanted to be a four year-old in his classroom.  And there is much to like about his methods as well–the activity fosters creativity, is hands-on, cultivates skills, and is fun.  How often does my class do these things (not as often as it should)?

The project was also interesting to me because I’m currently spending a lot of time with preschoolers: my two sons, aged 4 and 2, occupy a lot of my time and attention during these summer days, and I find myself challenged to come up with ways to get them interested in the world around them.  We might try this activity some time soon!

Voicethread (Thing 7)

I came across a good blog post on uses for Voicethread–it includes some helpful suggestions, links to further ideas, and good comments at the bottom.  At first, I had sort of written off this technology as something that I couldn’t really use effectively, or would just reduplicate things I already do in class.  But I’m starting to re-think this: I think Voicethread has potential for fostering student interaction and cooperative learning, especially at the beginning of the year when habits are being formed.


As a side note, I’ve used a few of the other tools on Shelly’s list (Quizlet, DoodlePoll); the one I use the most is Dropbox.  It’s a great way to avoid carrying around your stuff on a memory stick, and to avoid the “which is the latest version of this file?” question that we’ve all faced.  There are also ways to use Dropbox to collect student-made files that are not easily shared through Google Docs or some other platform.  One that I’m going to try this year is Dropittome, which gives students the ability to send files to your Dropbox, without having to give them access to the Dropbox itself.  I learned about Dropittome from Richard Byrne’s Free Tech 4 Teachers blog, which is a great source of tech ideas and tools (definitely worth subscribing to in your online reader).  Here is Byrne’s recent post on tools for sharing and storing files.


RSS Readers (Thing 5)

I started using an RSS reader about a year ago.  It’s been a tremendous aid to make my online reading more efficient and less scattered.  Previously, I had compiled a pretty extensive list of “bookmarks” in my web browser, most of which were organized and tagged to help me remember what they had to do with.  But, I still had difficulty actually remembering which of those sites were ones I wanted to read regularly, and even more difficulty actually doing the reading that I intended.  Additionally, I had been in the habit for several years of adding RSS news feeds to my bookmarks toolbar on Firefox and Chrome (whichever browser I happened to be using at the time).

This is what my main Netvibes page looks like–each rectangular box is a different RSS feed, and the lines of text below the title are articles or posts from that source.

So, it was a bit of a personal epiphany when I tried an RSS reader at the recommendation of a friend who was an avid blog follower in the context of his profession.  On this friend’s recommendation, I tried Netvibes, which is the RSS reader that I still use.  The ability to consolidate all of these feeds and site into one “hub” of access is incredible–no more wasted time trying to remember what I was looking for.  It’s a huge asset for knowledge-building (and networking, potentially).

As to Netvibes, I find its interface and visual setup to be more appealing and navigable than Google Reader.  In particular, I really like that Netvibes includes what they call “widgets” view, where each feed occupies a rectangular area within the page, and one is able to simultaneously view many feeds at once.  You can set up each feed to display as lines of text (like I have on the first image on the right) or in “magazine” view where the articles are displayed larger and with a picture.  It also gives you the ability to have different “tabs” (pages) for different types of feeds–you could have one for news feeds, one for education blogs, one for personal interest stuff, etc.  I have a few “tabs” set up, but mostly use the reader just for following blogs.  I need to reorganize my Netvibes setup based on all the stuff that I’ve come across recently in relation to this course!

When you click on an individual article, Netvibes opens the link in a window that looks like this.

Which RSS reader you use is a matter of personal preference, but if you’re fairly comfortable with navigating around the web and web-based software, I would recommend Netvibes as an option that allows more flexibility and individualization than Google Reader.  There are other readers out there as well, such as Feedly.  Just do a search and you’ll find a lot of different options.

If you’re currently reading lots of stuff online, or are interested in doing so, an RSS reader is definitely worth it: the little time that you spend setting it up and getting used to it will be repaid in more efficient reading in the future.

I am not by any means an “expert” with RSS Readers, but I’d be happy to offer help to anyone trying to figure out how to set up one or figure out which one is the best choice.


Voices in the Blogosphere (Thing 4)

The blog samplings provided for Thing 4 showed some of the diversity of the educational blogosphere–there’s something out there on almost every topic!

In recent months, I’ve really had a lot of thought provoked by a few ed blogs that I follow–the give and take of the posts and comments are a great forum for collaboration and honing of ideas.  I appreciate the informality of the blog format; it’s great for idea sharing and “thinking out loud together.”

I really appreciated Shelley Wright’s honest reflections on things that did not work well in her teaching.  I’ve read a number of her postings on another blog that I follow, and the honestly reflected in the post referenced above is a regular feature of her blogging.  She’s right about the need for teachers and students to share in failures, challenges, and difficulties, and then work together to address them.  I know that at times, I avoid doing new things in my classroom simply because I’m afraid that they won’t work, or I won’t be able to make them work well.  And I know my students are the same way, especially the top students, many of whom are petrified of doing anything that might affect their grade.

I think there’s great potential to use blogging as a way foster dialogue with and between our students to address their (and our) fear of risk-taking and failure.

Web 2.0–How do we use it to teach? (Thing 2)

Before I get into this, I must share that the “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” terminology has got me thinking of The Cat in the Hat.  Let’s hope that the Things that we’re working on don’t wreak havoc on our lives like the two  in Dr. Seuss’s story!

Here are the guiding questions from Thing 2, regarding the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on teaching and learning:

1. What might Web. 2.0 look like in [my] school and why should I care?

2. How might you be able to use these new tools to engage today’s “digital learners?”

3. Why would you want to?


Beginning with the end (seems appropriate), I think the simple answer is that we should want to use web. 2.0 technology because that’s where the students are.  That’s how the students are learning, whether we’re there or not.  That’s how they will interact with the world to a great extent for the rest of their lives.  If we don’t use these technologies, at least at some level, we risk minimizing our impact on our students and their future, lifelong learning.

Thinking in “big picture” terms for few moments, one of my big questions regarding the intersection of education and technology is whether technology is rendering (or had already rendered) the traditional model of education obsolete.  Now, that’s overstated a bit, but what I mean is this: have technological advancements made the traditional ways of learning–and reasons for these ways of learning–outdated, less meaningful, and impractical?  Are we doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach them using solely traditional techniques and tools?

If we agree that technology has even partially changed how education should be done (and who would disagree with that?), I think we owe it to ourselves and our students to engage in a serious discussion about how we should adapt our teaching methods and models.  I think much of our current conversation is oriented toward how we can integrate technology into our existing, traditional model of education.  But, might that be backwards thinking?  What if the technological innovations are revolutionary enough to necessitate a re-thinking of the entire model that we have for teaching and learning?  In other words, just to use a specific example, should I be more interested in the possibility of a digital textbook (“e-book”), or the possibility of not using/needing a textbook at all?  What if the digital revolution has made it so that core components or tools of our traditional educational model are obsolete?  What do we use instead?  And how do we need to adjust our teaching along with this?

Moving on from this, I’ll add a couple of thoughts on more particular things related to the first two questions.  First, there are some ways that teachers are currently using web 2.0 technologies that I could never do–probably due to my own shortcomings.  For example, I’ve read a number of edtech or teaching blog posts in the past year about “back channeling”–allowing students to use some sort of tech device (smart phone, tablet, or other) to offer instantaneous digital feedback or thoughts to the teacher, while class is going on.  I can’t imagine ever using that profitably.

Secondly, it can be frustrating to attempt to use technology in our current school setup.  This is not really a complaint about things not working–that’s sort of the nature of the beast–but about a lack of consistency, coordination, and overall purpose with regard to the integration of technology into the classroom setting.  Even at a school with a fairly homogeneous, affluent student body, we have huge discrepancies in what technological tools, skills, and background our students have.  My sense is that the students who are really “tech savvy,” and ahead of the curve in experimenting with tech-aided learning, get frustrated and feel that school “holds them back” in this regard.  Yet there are far more students who have minimal competence at even basic technologies–they are masters at texting and Facebook, but don’t know how to do much else.  I would like to see our school develop a technology curriculum, or at least some sort of detailed plan that includes input from multiple constituencies, to map out how we can use technology effectively to promote learning for our students.  I am sure that there are a bunch of schools that have something along these lines already; here’s one that I’m familiar with.

Lastly, I’m pretty convinced that any sort of success in the incorporation of technology into our classrooms needs to be communal and collaborative.  Sure, I can individually use tech gadgets and gizmos to add some “flair” to my classroom and to to facilitate my teaching.  But, in watching, conversing with, and reading thoughts from other teachers, I’m really challenged to do more and better, to think in ways that I wouldn’t by myself.  So, here’s to hoping that this course is a productive enterprise for all of us!



Lifelong Learning (Thing 1)

Seven Habits of Lifelong Learners

1. Begin with the End in Mind

2. Accept Responsibility for Your Own Learning

3. View Problems as Challenges

4. Have Confidence in Yourself as a Competent, Effective Learner

5. Create Your Own Learning Toolbox

6. Use Technology to Your Advantage

7. Teach/Mentor Others


Habit #1 really summarizes my reasons for taking this course.  I feel familiar and confident with technology in general, and actively practice most of the other habits in my own learning.  But, often I pursue learning without a clear goal or end in mind.  That’s not inherently bad–sometimes the goal or end turns out different that what we intend anyway.  However, I think with technology in particular, it is easy to fall into the trap of just messing around with things because they’re interesting, fun, or new.

For example, I can look at the list of the 23 Things and see that I am familiar with or already using two-thirds to three-fourths of the technologies listed.  I find several of them (Dropbox, RSS and readers, social bookmarking, and Google Docs) to be immensely helpful in my own learning.  But if I am not intentional and careful, I can easily use these and other technologies simply to waste time or merely enhance visual appearance.  Additionally, I have had trouble figuring out how to integrate several of them into my teaching in a way that actually enhances teaching and learning.  There are numerous reasons for this, most of which aren’t pertinent here.  The one that I would like to address in this course and in this blog is the need to be intentional about the use of technology.  I’ve found that if I don’t have a clear purpose, goal, or reason for using technology in my teaching and learning, that it will not end up being of much use.  Maybe that’s somewhat obvious, but it’s something that I often overlook.

So…back to Habit #1.  I chose the title of my blog to help myself focus on this Habit.  I’m hopeful that I will be able to learn about, or re-think, these technologies with a goal, a purpose, an end.  The End, therefore, should be the Beginning.  My learning objective is to incorporate Web 2.0 technology into my teaching and classroom in a way that enhances students’ understanding and learning.

As a final thought, I think it will also be helpful to have a set of guidelines for evaluating and using technology purposefully–this would be an application of several of the 7 Habits above, but more particularly crafted to fit with the use of technology.  EdTech blogger Richard Byrne posted his “Three D’s” of Discovery, Discussion, and Demonstration earlier this year, which are a helpful starting point.  Maybe at some point I’ll be able to develop my own guidelines or share some thoughts on how I might use Byrne’s guidelines.  (By the way, Byrne’s blog is an incredible resource for educational technology stuff; I intend to do another post at some point to share some of the other EdTech resources that I’ve come across.)