saudixpat’s Weblog

October 31, 2008

Wikis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 6:05 am

Wikis have been big in the news over the past several years with the growth of Web 2.0. In fact, Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the internet, According to Alexa, the  Web Information Company, Wiipedia is the eighth most visited site in the world (ninth in Canada and twenty-fourth in Saudi Arabia). Google or its local varient is the number one site globally.

But wikis go far beyond wikipedia. For instance, Nokia runs a wiki forum for its developers and the global computer company SAP has a wiki for their developers also. If large corporations are involved in the wiki community, what about schools and libraries?

According to Edweek the use of wikis is expanding in education. Teachers from California to Georgia are utilizing wikis as a learning tool in the classroom. There are pitfalls, however. A 2005 study in England found that students often took ownership of specific pages rather than collaborate to strengthen the wiki as a whole. This led to a small “wiki war” in which students put forth their proprietory claims.

At the same time, wikis can be enormously empowering. Global projects such as the Flat Classroom Project, mentioned in Will Richardson’s book, “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” is one example. I have the good fortune this year to be part of the Flat Classroom Project 2008 with nine of my students. Students are collaborating on wikis and video artifacts which will be embedded in their wiki pages. My students are involved with students around the globe, communicating, clarifying, and collaborating.

The video below gives a good overview of using wikis in education.

It is this collaboration aspect which is really appealing to students. The common saying, “All of us are smarter than one of us” is especially true on a wiki, where each student’s strong points can be maximised and support is given by others to proof and edit any possible errors. As my students have learned, there can be wiki wars, but at the same time they try to moderate responses to get meaningful dialogue going. On any wiki, it is useful to persuse the Discussion tab topics. They will provide an overview of how the wiki members are interacting.

This brings up the question, “What use are wikis in education?” A very good article by Stewart Mader gives an overview of wikis and a set of great links to wikis and wiki use in education. One that really rang a bell with me was a link to Heavy Metal Umlaut, a wiki on heavy metal. The page shows the evolution of the wiki over time. The same would likely hold true for a more academic wiki. One of the problems, however, as detailed in CampusTechnology.com is that not all teachers (or librarians!) are ready for the “freewheeling uncontrolled wiki environment”.

What does this mean for the future? Collaboration as a learning method will become more of a focus in education as teachers who have grown up with the new social technology enter the field. Students will have the chance, as this happens, to become truly “global” learners, working with others from around the world. Teachers will be expected to utilize this technology in their curriculum. I can see this beginning to happen at our school here in Saudi. Wikis are, as Thomas Friedman would claim, another flattener that brings everybody closer together.

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October 20, 2008

Virtual Libraries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:42 pm

This week brings me to the topic of Virtual Libraries. “What is a virtual library?” was my first question. So I began to do my research. A Google search for What is a virtual library revealed the first hit to be a link for Web Definitions for Virtual Library which revealed a variety of definitions depending on the site vewpoint. The very first reference is actually from a chemoinformatics website, but very appropriate.

“A library which has no physical existence, being constructed solely in electronic form or on paper. The building blocks required for such a library may not exist, and the chemical steps for such a library may not have been tested. These libraries are used in the design and evaluation of possible libraries.”

So a virtual library is to traditional libraries what Amazon.com is to traditional bookstores. It uses electronic information management systems to provide clients with the information required, easily and quickly.

To begin, I looked for videos on virtual libraries in schools. YouTube was a bit of a bust, as I found virtual tours of actual libraries, but then on Teachertube I found an analysis of a school’s virtual library site. This gave me a starting point to see what I might want to be looking for in a virtual library. Again, as this is a TeacherTube video, I would have had to download and install software onto the blog site, which I am not permitted to do as far as I can tell.

Moving on to actual reseach of online school libraries, I came across the Avis Elementary School Library website. This site is what I would call a “shell” site. The outside framework has been built, but the inside is empty. Looking at the page capture you can see what I mean.

Main Page of the Avis Library

Main Page of the Avis Library

The funny thing is that if you go to the district page and click the Avis Elementary Library link under the Libraries tab, you get a totally different page with information and a link to their Destiny database! My comments are addressed to the page within the actual school site. As you can see, the site is filled with white space and no information. Students who make it to this page likely won’t come back again.

Since this search didn’t go so well, I thought I would look for an international school’s virtual library. That’s how I came across the International School of Nagoya’s library website. Once more, I was disappointed. The entire site consisted of three pages: the first one with some background information and hours; the second one with information about the Sakura Medal reading contest and the top ten most-borrowed books; and the third page with a list of recommended and new books. Again, there is nothing on this site that would pull traffic to it, which I what I believe a good virtual library site (or any site for that matter) shoud do.

Determined to find a “good” online virtual library, I wondered what my old high school’s site looked like. After browsing, I must say I was impressed with the North Delta Secondary School library website. It is similar to the Bessie Chin Virtual Library website, but not as busy and not as text-based. Just as students have gotten into graphic novels, virtual libraries should have graphics to draw the users to the site.

North Delta Secondary Library Site

North Delta Secondary Library Site

The school site has a nice link bar on the left side, but also graphic based links on the right. It carries stories from CBC, The Globe and Mail, and TSN. It has a link to its Destiny OPAC as well as links to reseach and resource websites that might prove useful for school work. One feature I especially loved was the newstand which links to newpapers in ever province, the USA, and internationally. I was impressed. They even have Destiny OPAC walkthroughs!

The site I really really loved, though, was the Springfield High School Virtual Library. It is vibrant, colourful, well-arranged and takes you through what you need. Its impact on me has changed the way I do things. Currently, or library page on our school intranet is run by me in consultation with the librarians and their needs. At present it serves as a link portal to Brainpop, Tumblebooks, Turnitin.com, and other sites. After seeing Springfield’s page, I have shown our head librarian their site, discussed with our IB Art teacher about developing a project involving the graphic design of a new front page reflecting our elementary library and MS/HS library that would have hot spots to click on and take you to Destiny, Brainpop, EBSCO host and a variety of other places which are educationally sound and important.

What have I gotten out of researching virtual libraries? I now have a much beter understanding of what a virtual library is. It needs to function much as a real library does and be a focal point for browsing books and other resources and sharing them with others. At this point our virtual school library isn’t too heavy on the virtual, but hopefully in a month or two it will be there.

October 17, 2008

To Podcast or Not to Podcast. That’s the Question.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 9:13 pm

The big research topic this post is podcasting. After surveying and digging deeply into podcasting, I narrowed my research questions down to two. The first is, “Why Podcast?”. The second is, “Do Podcasts really have a place in education?” Then I began lookng at the evidence.

Will Richardson gives a good rationale for Podcasting on page 113 of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. It’s easy. Lots of schools are already using podcasting. Finally, it does not necessarily involve teachers creating content for students. Rather, many of the models he gives are student to student content. Richardson (p. 114 – 115) gives examples of four different schools that use podcasting for different purposes. Willowdale Elementary School uses podcasting for student-created entertainment. Brent Coley School uses podcasts to showcase student projects where students have created educational content for other students. Yet another school, Mabry Middle School, uses podcasting to update students on school news and upcoming events. Finally, Lincoln Southwest High School uses podcasting to promote student reviews, interviews, upcoming events and “…whatever else might be of interest [to students]” (Richardson, 2009. p. 115). From these examples, it is clear that podcasting can cover a lot of curricular territory, social interests, cultural viewpoints, and that it involves students in ways not previously available to all schools. In the past, to broadcast as a school, a radio broadcasting unit would have been required. Now all that is needed is a computer and a microphone.

Then I widened my search to the internet. Using the search term ‘top ten reasons to podcast’, I found the sixth URL listed, ‘Top Ten Reasons to Podcast with Your Students’. Point nine, “Podcasting is another publishing avenue” and point seven, “You can reach auditory learners,” really rang a bell with me. As a teacher who has had students display their knowledge in Social Studis via a newspaper from a specific time period, I can see how the relevency could be updated for learners while at the same time still displaying mastery by conducting interviews, debates, or newscasts covering the same material. Point seven hit the mark as well. I can think of quite a few students in my classes over the years who would have done much better with an oral assignment. The one that I think of the most was a dyslexic student in my Socials class who ended up dropping out of school. With podcasting, he would have been able to skip the visual processing of the words and focus aurally on the meaning. I can see how that would have helped him learn and retain information, making reviewing for assignments, quizzes and tests much easier.

In an interview with dyslexic students about the benefits of podcasts in education, one girl made the point that the lesson become portable. She can download it and listen to it while she cycles and also has the ability to replay it back at any time. This video, along with others discussing the benefits of podcasting and other technologies with learning impaired students can be found at the University of Nottingham. The information here really reinforces my thoughts on that one student and others like him.

To sum it up, podcasts can be used for a wide variety of educational purposes. They can be used to provide students with enriched content or to allow absent students to “be” in class via the podcast. Students can create podcast assignments which cover the same material and display knowledge mastery. Students can also podcast a wide range of material of academic, social, and cultural interest to themselves. Finally, and most importantly, podcasting can be used to assist learners who struggle with an orthographic system. Why podcast? Podcast because it is extremely beneficial to both teachers and students.

That brings me to my next question, “Do podcasts really have a place in education”? Looking at the question, I realize I have answered it in the section above. The answer? A resounding “YES!”. Lacking a question, I asked myself the next logical question. “How easy is it to podcast?”

This got me searching websites. I found a great site at Poducate Me whose guide walks you through any possible consideration about podcasting, including education. According to the information in the Podcasting in Education section, podcasting is spreading across campuses nationwide, even replacing textbooks in some courses.

Another good site to learn about podcasting and how to make a podcast is the radio.about site which gives a five page step-by-step tutorial on making podcasts. It doesn’t specifically refer to education though, just about making podcasts.

Then I looked at the programs needed to make a podcast. Asking around, I found that if my First Class school email software had the ability to create podcasts via web publishing as of version 8.3. Emboldened, I researched it. Here is the Teachertube video of how to do that for those of you who use the First Class client. I had tried to embed it, but you have to download a bunch of files from Teachertube and install software to your WordPress root directory. As mine is a free account, I don’t believe I have access to this. Easier to create a link.

To test how easy it is to follow those directions, I created a Podcast using my First Class school email and its Web Publishing features. I had never thought that my email client at school could do that! It was actually very easy!

Creating a podcast in First Class

Creating a podcast in First Class

Another piece of software that makes creating podcasts easy is Audacity. It comes in both Mac and PC versions and allows you to record and edit a podcast. The last piece of software I looked at was Garageband. I have the ’06 and ’08 versions. Both make it easy to create a voice recording with backing music beats to add energy. Because of the ease of adding music, I chose GarageBand over Audacity.

Garageband Splash Screen

Garageband Splash Screen

Garageband is podcast capable right off the bat. It has a clear and easy interface beginning with the initial selection of project and purpose. Even before you create your podcast, though, you can use Magic Garageband (seen below) to build a beat track to play in the background, which I did using the reggae tools. You have a wide choice of effects for each instrument shown.

Magic Garageband

Magic Garageband

Lastly, what really won me over was the Garageband interface when I was building and recording my podcast. It has different rows for each instrument or voice recording, it allows you to control volume levels if necessary, and it allows you to trim, split, or overlap soundtracks in your podcast. I was easily able to take my raggae backbeat, lower the volume at the point where I wanted to start talking, and then match my podcast voiceover to end first followed by my backbeat. I really liked it.

Garageband Interface

Garageband Interface

If I was not going to host on my own First Class account, I would definitely use Podomatic. I looked at another podcast host, Podcastspot, however,they are closing down this November 30, although they didn’t explain why. Podomatic has free hosting, free publishing, and even allows you to make a podcast right on site. In short, they are the podcast version of Flickr or Picassa. Unfortunately, I had a problem creating an account in Podomatic, so I tried Podbean. Podbean has the exact same look and feel as WordPress, which made me right at home. So, I hosted my podcast on Garageband with Podbean.

Now that you have a better overview of podcasting, its educational advantages, purposes, and impact, and you know how easy it really is to make one, I hope you feel inspired to go out and create your own podcasts.

October 6, 2008

Social Bookmarking

Filed under: Uncategorized — Expat in Saudi @ 12:56 pm

Social bookmarking, while something I had heard of, wasn’t something I used. With Favorites already on board, why would I want anything else? Then I took my Web 2.0 course. Very cool. However, it forced me to get out and look at different Web 2.0 tools, features, and networks. This week is Social Bookmarking week. I have since visited a variety of sites, gone on a journey down the trailfire and looked at what others had to say. The Frequently Answered Questions blog gave examples of students working in teams to bookmark resource sites. Based on that and other sites, I began to make connections.

I began with a few questions (as I always do). 1. Why is social bookmarking relevent to me? 2. What are some examples that show this relevence? 3. Which tool or tools is THE best to use? I ended up, after doing all this, musing about complacency, the status quo, and the power of routine.

The first thing I asked was, “What makes this relevent to me? Why should it be relevent?” I mean, after all, I have my bookmarks in Favorites that allow me to track sites and get back to them easily if need be. Openlearn.co.uk’s page asks questions about the benefits of social bookmarking and gives us a list of Social Bookmarking sites, some which obviously didn’t take off, like Hyperlinkomatic and Frassle, which shut down in 2006 because, as it’s developer, Shimon Rura said in his blog, Where Frassle Went Wrong, and How to Make a Zillion Dollars Doing it Right, “…overall, the core problem with frassle is [it tried] to do too many things…integrat[ing] blog publishing, aggregators, republishing, and semantic correlation.” Interesting to see the cast offs and then the successes: Blinklist; Furl (more about that later); del.icio.us; and Spurl. Quite honestly, though, most of the sites trumpeting the benefits of using social bookmarking were linked to generating more cash flow for your business, blog or website.

Then I looked at what others had to say about keeping organized in a Web 2.0 environment. The conversations about del.icio.us and diigo were very interesting, as was the trailfire article on Cool Tools: the Best of Social Bookmarking. Frequently Answered Questions gave some more specifics. From it, I could see working with, say, an Aboriginal Education class and using del.icio.us or Diigo or FURL, I could have students bookmark creation myths from aboriginal cultures around the world and use that as a starting point to pick out common beliefs that have shaped aboriginal viewpoints from the beginning. So to sum it up, social bookmarking can be used as a research and collation tool to bring together a wide range of sources on common topics.

This is where the tags came in. I hadn’t really thought about the value of tags even though I am really good with Google boolean searches and search terms. What I discovered in a very good article on using social bookmarks as a class tool is that you should decide the purpose and choose your tags. When students go on the net seeking resources to tag, there should be a common set of tags that make things clearly identifiable as to which class they are for and what purpose they can be used for.

In finding out why they would be relevent to me (and I will be using these with my Flat Classroom Project students as a way of organizing their research) I also answered my question about examples. Although I searched on TeacherTube and YouTube, I didn’t find any video explaining or demonstrating projects using social bookmarking. However, I did come across a video showing me how to add social bookmarking buttons to the bottom of my blog on wordpress!

This brings me to my third and final question, “Which tool or tools is the best to use?” I began my social bookmarking career using del.icio.us. It looked cool, had the biggest number of users and tags that I could see, and allowed you to custom tag and share your tags with others. It is accessible from any computer with web access, so is supremely portable. Then I read others postings about Diigo. You could set up a private class account easily. Diigo has a special education deal which you can access after creating your own account. You can highlight text on webpages and sites which other diigo users can see. Diigo also sounds like it might be the tool to use. Why did I create that del.icio.us account?,

Finally, on the trailfire, I read about Furl. It seemed even better as I could use it to archive websites I visited; something that del.icio.us and diigo cannot do. So I went over to furl, checked it out, installed the Furl It! No-Pop bar to my IE and tried it out. I waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, I timed out. I went to another site and got the same result. As internet speed here in Saudia is not the fastest, I sadly came to the conclusion that FURL is not going to work, even though I want it to.

So which one is best? This is where my musings on complacency and inertia come in. I was happy using Favorites to store the list of my favorite websites. Now that I have learned about del.icio.us, signed up and used it, I am happy with it. At this point, I am not using diigo, even though I have my account up and ready. With my sites and tags stored on del.icio.us, complacency sets in. As for FURL, when I leave Saudia, I will use FURL, as websites have been known to come and go and having FURL can save trouble. But del.icio.us – last night I used it to store tags related to yearbook design and caption writing. Now, when I reformat my hard drive or get a new drive as I did two weeks ago, I can simply reinstall my del.icio.us bar and have instant access again, by tag. Sweet! How del.icio.us it is for me!

But. But….when my students begin their Flat Classroom Project next week, I will have them sign up for the class diigo and research their group topics there. I will also see if we can’t create a global diigo group so that al 17 school’s students will be compiling on diigo and more importantly, perhaps, highlighting the relevent text information for others to see. How powerful that will be! So, for the nonce, del.icio.us. For the future, diigo.

Thanks for reading! Now, look at the bottom of the post. If the YouTube video was correct, you will see some del.icio.us and other bookmarking links down there! Here is the video if you want to do the same for your wordpress blog.

 

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