Monday, July 30, 2007

Opening classrooms

Tomorrow I'll be observing a fellow teacher's class as part of the annual review meetings teaching staff at our school are required to have. Each teacher is to find a way of having a way of observing themselves through another's eyes, whether a teacher observer, a videoed class observed or evaluation by student or parent surveys. I will be joining Michael in his Year 9 Religious Education class. He has asked me to observe and comment on his technique in oral instruction, details of explanations, voice clarity, and ability to engage students in questions and answers. I will have to write up a report that Michael can then use in his annual interview with the principal. Later Michael will join me in one of my classes. All I can say is I'm glad he didn't come into any of my classes today. I tried to set up blogs with my Year 11 class and it was not good. The system was so slow that most students could not get their blogs set up and there was a class of 27 disappointed students. Luckily, I did have plan B. Hopefully my attempts to engage students with technology tomorrow will not be so disappointing. Some of my Year 12 class recorded some diary entries written in the voice of the main character of the novel they are studying. I hope I'll be able to make them into a podcast tonight.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Jo,
    Out of curiosity, what blogging platform did you use? And was the process slow because of your own school's bandwidth, or because of the blogging site?

    I ran into this problem last year, and can't overstate the importance of committing to blogging only with a service that has fast, reliable service. Otherwise, it becomes a nightmare.

    So I'm curious....

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  2. We were using Edublogs.org I haven't been able to diagnose whether the problem was because of the school's bandwidth or the blogging site. I will email James Farmer to see what he has to say. I haven't had problems before, so I don't know what it was. You're right, it was a annoying to say the least.

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  3. I agree that getting feedback on your teaching, even when you are an experienced teacher, is a worthwhile process. It obviously takes a bit to get used to the idea of being "peer assessed" but can be a useful process if you are open enough to accept what you're doing well and what you could be doing differently.

    Regarding your disaster with the blogs today... isn't it annoying when the technology/equip fails us! The trick is really not to be discouraged and to accept the fact that it's not always going to always work out perfectly. I wish you better luck with your next attempt!

    Cheers, Rachel, NZ

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  4. Jo and Clay,

    As I'm setting up my new course for the fall, I wonder and worry about the issues of bandwidth, reliable access to sites, etc. I'll be at school later in the week and hope to speak with our district technologist.

    My administrators are willing to support my efforts to embed technology into the curriculum, but our network cannot always support what is needed.

    Until there is some kind of universal educational "digital equity", schools in all of our countries are going to run into these types of problems.

    P.S.
    What was Plan B?

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  5. Hi again. I suspected it might be learnerblogs.org. That's what my classrooms used from October to January of this last year, until the chronic unreliability - literally minutes for a blog to load, sometimes no connection at all for hours, and this for a series of months - forced me to abandon learnerblogs and opt instead to install Wordpress MU on a hired server. That, too, is a headache, because you need to know php and how to administer a server, which I didn't. I muddled through enough to figure it out.

    (Learnerblogs, as you probably know, is the classroom version of Edublogs, run on Wordpress Multiple User instead of regular Wordpress. So I'm curious to hear James' feedback on the reliability issue. Maybe they've fixed it - but after reading about your recent experience, maybe not.)

    Again, it's crucial to have a reliable blog host from the start. I'm hearing good things about 21classes.com. I was a Skype guest in a profdev workshop put on by Patrick Higgins in New Jersey, USA. So was Konrad Glogowski. He and Patrick both said they'd had great success with 21classes. Here's from Patrick's wiki (connectivewriting.wikispaces.com):

    Using 21classes to set up your class blog:

    21classes is a free blog hosting site, among many others, that offers teachers the ability to have student blog accounts tied to their own blog. The advantages that 21classes offers over the others lies in its layers of security that you can choose. You can choose from any of the following security settings:

    * Totally open- anyone can view and comment on the student blogs, and students can post and comment any time without you knowing.
    * Totally closed- no one except password possessing members of the class can view the blogs, and students posts and comments must all be approved by you.
    * Somewhere in the middle- any combination of the two that achieves a middle ground.

    Essentially you can determine the level of security you would like. I always tell teachers to err on the side of caution until you get a good feeling for the students. Then you can slowly relax the controls.

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  6. One more tidbit. I just set up an account at 21classes.com to test drive it myself, and it seems solid and simple.

    The only limitation I don't like is the 2mb upload limit per student.

    Fortunately - and here's the tidbit - there's a workaround for unlimited uploads: divshare.com. They'll host unlimited audio, video, and document files for free, forever. So I think you can upload there, and embed from there into 21classes.

    I'm going to check that to be sure about the embedding part.

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  7. Okay, it does indeed convert videos to Flash and embed. Only problem I'm seeing on my first try is that the Flash is slow to load.

    Maybe it's because my account is brand new, and this is my first upload. If you want to see 21classes.com with a Flash embed from Divshare, go to this page.

    Call me hyperactive ;-) (Seriously, our classes start within two weeks, and you're giving me the opp to get some of my exploring done.)

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  8. Hi Dianne, Plan B was a webquest I had prepared on the text we are studying (the film Gattaca)which I was able to direct the students to. I knew they wanted to do something on the computers and this was a natural alternative.

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  9. Always good to have a plan B... or even a plan C too when working with technology!

    On thinking about it, maybe this is where a lot of teachers who are less experienced with technology go wrong?? they simply don't have a plan b, or c??

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  10. Clay, Thanks for the tip about 21 classes - I signed up and hope it will offer me another shot at getting my students connected.

    Jo, I think I'll make up a plan B through Z...our network is very chancy. Maybe I'll bring in an MP3 player and let the kids philosophize! (or let them track down quotations for Clay!)

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  11. Jo, if you end up using divShare w/ 21classes, shoot me an email and I'll explain to you a small complication in embedding divShare's videos. (Short version: 21classes truncates the video ID in html after a hyphen, so you have to manually enter it. I've emailed 21classes support with this, so hopefully they'll fix it.)

    Huh? "Quotes"? I'm dense today.

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  12. Hi Clay,
    Thanks for letting us know about your DivShare problem. We've fixed this, so there is no workaround required anymore when inserting a divshare embed code.
    We're trying to resolve issues as fast as possible, and are constantly trying to improve our system. So if there's anything you're missing, please let me know.

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