Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another aspect of the digital divide?

Why isn't web 2.0 important for educators? is a question that Rachel Jeffares from New Zealand asks in her part of Graham's K12 Online conference presentation in answer to his question. And this is my question in some ways too. Here are a few reasons. Teachers are overworked, under pressure and out of time. And some people just don't like blogs (thanks to Doug Noon in my network for this one.) But to me it is part of the digital divide. This week on Radio National's program Australia Talks Back there was a segment on The Digital Divide, talking about "a country divided along unexpected lines - creating a technological underclass . . . " which was covered again in the Friday Week in Review section. Naturally the program covered important issues such as access and equity, but there was also an aspect of division along knowledge lines. A caller spoke about part of the digital divide being the intimidation felt by "those who don't know" from "those who do". Because of my recent experience in learning to podcast (well, it was a big deal for me!) I know just what he meant. I was intimidated and felt even more stupid when people were telling me it was so easy that even 8 year olds could do it. It took me a year from deciding I wanted to do it to getting the courage to try. And when I was doing my first one, I became so frustrated and wanted someone who knew how to be sitting beside me, but all I had was my husband who doesn't know about this, but listened to me venting "but how do I get a Lame encoder (whatever that is)? How do I unzip a file??? why isn't it working? how come it doesn't look like that screen shot? what have I done wrong? And two hours later it had worked. I don't know why or how. But I have done it again since and each time I have learnt more and more. Now I love it and have heaps of ideas for other podcasts. Things that did help were listening to other podcasts like Bob Sprankle and Cheryl Oakes, hearing people talk about webcasting (a different thing but still relevant) and keeping on trying, as well as being part of Graham's presentation. I am now learning to do interviews and keeping the sound recording levels right and later I will probably add music (maybe, if it's not too hard). People who know all about podcasting are probably saying "but it's easy." All I can say is, it didn't seem that way to me. But once you know how, then it is. I am writing this in a cafe with a pen into my little notebook and will later type it into my blog. I look with awe on those who can moblog with their mobile phones (like David Warlick) and that might be the next thing I learn. In the meantime for those who want to know, here are podcasts on Gattaca and The Wife of Martin Guerre for revision for students who are studying these texts. I did them as interviews with other teachers in my school which was something that they were willing to be involved with. And I thank them for that. It sounds much better than my voice alone. I can definitely see podcasting being a fantastic tool for learning and so watch this space to see what happens next.
Update: I forgot to say that I am probably intimidating to others who don't yet know, and also that it takes a special kind of person to talk about web 2.0 to people who don't know. Often these teachers feel annoyed by those who speak in a language they don't understand and as Ewan realises "explaining the hows and whys behind the social software movement in education without coming close to putting backs up or making people defensive" is hard. I know because I don't often succeed. It's good that others can.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Interesting ideas for assessment

The other day it came time to give the students in my year 8 English class their assessment task to finalise their study of the class novel The Dons by Archimedes Fusillo. It is a novel about a boy who lives with his mum and his Italian grandfather (Nonno) and his coming to terms with the difficulties and joys of his life as it changes in adolescence. In previous years I would have given them questions designed to engage the students in thought about the issues that come up: the experience of migrants, single parent families, growing up, grandparents and so on. This year, after a conversation with Sylvia, a teacher of French and head of the LOTE department (Languages other than English) and a member of the MYP team (Middle Years Program), I asked the students to work in pairs and come up with two assessment tasks of their own for the novel. I gave them some ideas to start with, including the plot and characters as well as the themes mentioned above. It was a very engaging period with lots of talk about the novel and at the end I had about 14 or 15 different ideas ranging from "Make a confession in any form of Paul confessing his love for Tracey (e.g. video, podcast, love song, love letter)" to "Draw a Venn diagram showing what Paul and Dan have in common and their differences" to "Nonno is Italian. Picture yourself in his shoes and write a detailed journal entry of 150 – 200 words of his experiences. Imagine him reflecting on his life and how it has changed" to "Choose a character other than Paul and do a character profile. Include first and last name, a hand drawn (or in Paint) picture of the character (head shot), one thing you have common with the character, and one thing different, three likes and dislikes, hobbies, personality traits, a paragraph explaining what you think of the character. Choose from: Dan Declan, Zia Rita, Theresa, Tracey Reynolds, or Nonno. When you have done this choose an actor to play the part of the character you have profiled. Who would you choose to play Paul?" I was so amazed at how much the students enjoyed this and how proud they were at the results. I later typed this up and gave it to them to choose any two of the tasks for their mark. Off they went and the interest continued as they made their artefacts. I'm looking forward to what they produce.
There is a side note to this. A few students couldn't get into the novel at all and none of my tricky little ideas worked for them. I have a principle that I want to students to read for pleasure so I took a risk. I offered these students an opportunity to choose a novel from the collection of Literature Circles books which means that we are not all reading the class novel. Fortunately, only one student questioned the fairness of this. (I definitely agree that there is a fairness issue here). I talked to her privately about my decision and the reasons for it. She was fine with it as long as those students assessment tasks were of comparable difficulty (which, one way or another, they will be).
I have been reading English writer, Claire Senior's book Getting the Buggers to read recently and so rather than forcing the issue I had decided to try an alternative, knowing that this may well be my last chance to give my reluctant readers at the tail end of Year 8 the experience that may get them hooked on reading for life. We are still going to have class novels next year in order to have a common discussion with the students of the issues and themes they will have all read and explored together, so creativity will have to be the order of the day to keep the whole class focused on the one book. This will be interspersed with wide reading and free voluntary reading as well. There are many helpful ideas in Claire Senior's book and I do recommend it, and isn't it a great title?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Podcasts for revision

Thanks to Doug Belshaw I was inspired a week or so ago to try out the idea (as yet in its infancy) of recording revision podcasts for Year 12 students preparing for their exams coming up in about ten days. Of course this meant I would have to learn how to make a podcast, but armed with my resources from the website already mentioned plus my links on podcasting carefully collected for just such an opportunity, I thought it would be the work of a few moments to get my head around it. But it was harder than that. It is much harder than blogging, but now I know how to do it, it is getting easier. I have made two episodes that are just me talking about Henry Lawson's Short Stories and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and plan to do two more this week which I will record with other Year 12 teachers at my school discussing their readings of the texts. The students can download these podcasts onto their iPods, as some have already done, and listen to them while walking to school without being considered 'nerds', a sad reflection on school life today - if you are to succeed, you must make it look as though you did no work; being a nerd is one of the meanest things to say to a student. My dream would be to make regular podcasts of Year 12 texts next year throughout year 12 and involving the students (and possibly teachers at other schools - maybe through skype). This could be a source of revision for students as they come up to exam time. If any of your students are studying these texts feel free to have a listen. The two that remain to be done are reflections on Andrew Nicholls' film Gattaca and Janet Lewis' The Wife of Martin Guerre. The podcasts, called The Open Text (what else?) can be found here through Podomatic.
And speaking of podcasts, one that I have been enjoying recently is the Critical Literacy in Practice Podcast with Vivian Vasquez. Check it out.

Update: I remembered that I should also give credit to Joseph Papaleo as he had the idea of podcasts for revision. Podcast on Gattaca will be posted tonight

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Women of Web 2.0

I love it! Another place where I can come and share and see familiar people in another context. Vicki, Cheryl, Jennifer and Sharon have set up Women of Web 2.0 or WOW. It's place for collaborating, networking and learning or, in their own words: "Women of Web 2.0 is for all who are using the tools of the internet whether it be in a classroom setting, leading seminars, authoring books, maintaining blogs or wikis, or just enjoying the tools of the internet in an educational and exciting way." These women are amazing in the example they give and the way they facilitate others to learn. There's a bulletin board, a newsletter, a blog and even a shop. The people who have joined come from a variey of countries and are a variety of ages. Go on over and see the wealth of resources and experiences they are gathering together.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blogging on MySpace

I have been blogging "away". Just recently I signed up to MySpace in much the same way as some other teachers have: Wes Fryer who says "I am starting this myspace site because I am an idealist, and I know many other people out there are too. I know we can change the world, because we have the chance to have conversations with each other. Conversations and relationships change us." or Nancy Dowd who writes about Web 2.0 libraries. I have started my space but haven't done much yet. I have been reading the blogs of my students and been amazed (both good and bad). Overall the feeling seems to be positive. I read a very thoughtful memorial of a friend of theirs who had passed away a year ago (known also to me) and was pleasantly surprised at the role the MySpace blog had in the grieving process. I read of their feeling about being in the last few weeks of school before their final exams and what the school has meant to them. I read of their plans for the (immediate) future and felt for them. You can spend an awful lot of time immersed in another (virtual) world. I am now wondering about the two spaces that some of my students have: their blog for school and their myspace. I did ask one class to reflect on their experiences with other blogs if they have one and one student said that she thought MySpace was a waste of time and destructive of relationships, so not all young people are enamoured. So these are my musings on this warm and lazy Friday afternoon.