My First 10 Weeks into Edublogs

In my new course Media Maker, using a Pro account, students have each established their own blogs, blog on a weekly basis. These blogs are a combination of responses to class tasks and writing of their own choice. For example, in the last module we completed, students worked on information bases writing projects: they created articles styled after wikipedia entries and Buzzfeed style listicles. So, weekly blogs included reflections on research, summarizing sources and linking reading to the projects they were working to create. Additionally, optional assignment are given to the students where they write product reviews, create photo essays, or conduct and document interviews. All of this writing is put onto the student’s blog.

I’d like to take some time to discuss some of the habits I’ve developed as teacher to manage the use of Edublogs and evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses I see in Edublogs as a teacher.

Before getting into that, I’ll take a minute to outline my decision to use Edublogs as the primary platform for this class. First, I was looking for something secure and that I had control over as a teacher. Edublogs provides the security to create logins and passwords for those seeking to access these blogs. Thus, it’s easy for parents and peers to be given access, but there’s a layer of difficulty for anyone else. Second, as a teacher with students linked to my class, and the Pro accounts, I have backstage access for control of what students are working on. Here are some examples of where I’ve had to put a degree of influence and control over student work:

  1. Connotation. One student overlooked the directions around blog names provided at the outset, and used the title “How to Make Life Lit.” Because of the connotations around “lit” for students these days, I was able to edit the title, and then send a note to the student on Schoology about my rationale.
  2. Awareness of audience. This second example really brings together a range of blogs and posts from students around the inability of many students to shift language to appropriate contexts. Thus, many students struggle to edit, proofread and shift language so that it’s appropriate to being read by a wide range of audiences on the web. It’s typical for students to write with a lack of using capital letters, to forget apostrophes, to use the lowercase for the first person pronoun.  In some cases, this lack of awareness and ability to apply the rules is so bad, I can just go into the student blog and pull the post. In the best cases, I’ve been able to sit with the student and edit work together to remind and reinforce the rules.
  3. Acceptable and Fair Use. Students are encourage, and really required to use their blogs as a platform for web-based writing. Thus the use of hyperlinks, images, and curated content from the web becomes part of the texts that they must create. However, students often nab photos or other images, but then fail to adequately cite these images. Again, I’m able to get onto a student dashboard, and change the status of posts and pages to draft status until these issues are resolved.

Over the past year, I spent time looking at a variety of other blogging platforms: Medium, Blogger, WordPress. At one point, I considered giving students a choice of platforms, but ultimately decided against such a move. Edublogs gives me something central. And, as I said above, Edublogs provided security that many other platforms cannot give. As part of this, our school internet filters block out WordPress and other blogging sites, often because these platforms contain pornographic content. Because my school has become an Enterprise level Schoology user, I did look at the simplified blog tool that it provides. But, it is highly simplified. For a course where students are blogging as a part of the curriculum, students should have more power and have to grapple with the rich tools that are provided by Edublogs. Still, those looking for an entry platform into student blogging, and who are also using Schoology, would be rewarded by looking into this feature.

Like its parent WordPress, Edublogs has a great deal of control for its users, perhaps too much. And, while I don’t know all nuances, there’s enough that’s super easy to use for teachers and students.

To manage all of this, I’ve developed a few habits. On average, students make a post once a week. It’s easy enough when a post is due, to start to work through the list of students, read their blogs and leave feedback. Blogs are assessed and graded, and I’m able to spot check for student comments, and be on alert for any issues that I discussed above. Students are required to double-post their writing. They post to Edublogs so that their work can be read, but they also post the same assignment to Schoology so that I can mark, edit and comment. This cumbersome for both me and the students.

Edublogs is primarily a blogging tool that has some features that make it useful for a teacher. It’s not a teaching tool and learning management systems that provides high-end blogging features. Trying to manage the blogs for thirty some students is cumbersome and tedious. There’s not a great way to see student blogs. Edublogs could improve its delivery by creating a way to manage individual sections, and within those sections create alphabetical ordering of students. Even better–provide a way to grade those blogs with rubrics and feedback tool that allowed discussion between teacher and student. It would be super nice if there was a level of connectivity between an LMS like Schoology and Edublogs, but what that would look like, I really couldn’t say. At Canandaigua, many in our English department like the way that Schoology and Turnitin connect. Anything to enhance the one-stop-shopping experience.

I’m not going to write about the benefits of blogging with students. There’s a ton of material, resources, groups and others who have written on this topic. One cool thing that’s happen, and actually happened almost immediately when we turned on the blogs was the power it gave to students in the room. Right away, a bunch of my students–mostly gamers–started blogging about games that they were playing, writing reviews of these games, and posting follow-up comments on each other’s blogs. They continue, even now, 10 weeks into the course, to go beyond regular assignments (sometimes in place of them) to keep up these habits. This spoke to me about the power of student blogging to give students a voice and entryway into the discourse communities they want to be part of engaging in conversations with.

Still, there are some places I still need to explore. I realize that in describing the issues that I’ve been working with in this classroom over the past ten weeks, I’ve also stumbled across several issues of the politics of the classroom: Should a teacher be able to exercise control over student blogs and remove content from what they’ve created? What is the value of students creating texts in which they are essentially curating content of the web.

NYSCATE 2016–What I’ll Be Up to…

Going into NYSCATE for the third time, I’m complete primed for an in-depth learning experience where I learn far more than I can ever use. In my first two years, I left my opening sessions with more technology to explore than I knew what to do with.

As much as this is about the technology, I don’t want to lose sight of what it’s really: building that PLN, and finding ways to make what I do with students better. I hopefully with  walk away with more stuff for PBL, collaboration, modification and redefinition in SAMR.

So, I’m super-charging my devices, making sure my mobile hot-spot can get me past some funky, convention center WiFi, and ready to use this time effectively. Here’s some of the sessions I hope to hit.

Sunday:

I’m registered for the hands-on session on Top Tech.

12:30 Sessions:

Blending, Flipping, Mixing

Digcit Certification

Formative Assessment

Participatory Learning

Collaboration Across Districts

Students Videos & Animation

1:00 Google Expedition Open House

1:45 Sessions:

Symbaloo

Guiding Students on Inquiry

3:00 Sessions:

Access to Text

Creativity & Design Thinking

Game-based Learning

Monday

8:00 Sessions:

Breakout Edu

Flip Blended Inquiry with Google Forms

Interactive Inquiries

Paper Extinction and the rise of E-Portfolios

10:45

App Smack Down

Google Classroom Worksheets

3:45

Editing Video on a Chromebook

Blogging 101

Tuesday

8:00

Google Apps Tips & Tricks

App Smackdown

Classroom Makerspace

Additional Features of Drive and Docs

Multi-course classroom

10:30

Breakout Edu

Tools for the Modern Classroom

11:00

Genius Hour PBL

Google Sites with 2 Bald Dudes

 

What We Did? First Full Week

Here’s some of the cool stuff we did in the first full week.

One of my favorite lessons of the year comes when I introduce the writing process to my English 101 students by creating with Playdoh. Here are some pics from the pencil holders they create with the stuff.

I first came across this lesson almost 20 years ago, and I did it for a while. When I started teaching freshman composition to high school upper classmen, I knew that I had to bring it back. In a over-tested culture where students learn to write for examinations, I knew I needed a way to have students engage in the steps to the writing process, and pull in diverse learners while doing it. This is a lesson that works.

Taking a quick tangent here, I have a tentative plan to do a 1/2 day design thinking workshop for all of my students in the fall to teach them the design thinking process over the course of the afternoon and then to build aspects of the process into the course content.

In Media Maker, students have begun to create their blogs and are starting to write about topics that they’ll be following in the first five weeks of the semester. A few students have already started to write beyond the requirements of the class and are starting review of favorite games and systems. Using help from Eric Bateman, the librarian, we took pictures of students and are getting ready to use the pictures to create a school wide bulletin board of our work, and QR codes to link pictures with the work were doing. Tomorrow, we’re learning some photoshop basics to get those pictures ready for publication.

As I’ve written about in the past, IB is going to be focused on satire in the first five weeks. I’ve flipped a satire lesson–around the techniques of satire. This was paired with Margaret Atwood’s short story “Rape Fantasies,” and were starting their own blogs to share developing thinking on the Atwood’s novel A Handmaid’s Tale.

Given that it was the first full week of school, the Friday after a late night at Open House, I was dreading the last two periods of the day. However, with the IB students having blogged before class, and having read each other’s blogs, students came fired-up for discussion.

Moving to online writing with two class, and approximately 30 students, I’ve been challenged to see how to follow student work. Certainly Edublogs is a great platform to use to have students publish writing and media to the web, but it is also a cumbersome tool for use as a teacher in attempting to follow, moderate, comment, and look at what students are producing. When we were analog, it was picking up a notebook and turning to the right page. Now we have to find the content, follow links. I’d love suggestions from fellow educators on work flow management when students are blogging.

 

 

Schoology: The First Two Weeks

I was inspired to write this post after reading Rich Colosi’s blog article, “Six Tips for Starting Your Schoology Course.” For those who are new to using a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Schoology, you’ll find his tips on getting your classes set up and running helpful. Also, people should read Dylan Rodger’s blog, which offers solid ways that units can be organized. You may find it helpful to read these article before continuing into this post.

This is at least my third year starting with an LMS; however, it’s a first for me to be a paid subscriber and to have the full Enterprise version of Schoology with the capability to be used by all students and teachers at Canandaigua Academy. While the set up of my classes wasn’t impacted by this, the results long-term impacts of this integration building wide are, for me,

I’ve found that setting up my classes in Schoology isn’t a whole lot different from the moves that I make when setting up a regular classroom. It takes some planning foresight, logical organization, and a committment to creating working long-term program.

Here are some things that I do:

  1. Build it and they will come. It’s important that when bringing students to an LMS, there has to be content there for them to work with, and there’s purpose for why students are there. Make sure you have either a calendar populated, folders with course content in them, even if it’s as repository system, an assignment to turn in, a quiz to take, a discussion to contribute to.

Without it, where’s the rationale for using the tool. So, it means that the teacher needs to have  some reasons to use Schoology. What I recommend is to pick one way that you can use it, do it, and then add other purposes as the year goes on.

2. Like what Colossi suggests, organize by folders and create a numbering system. Can’t agree more. However, content is organized, work to give students a guide. When I go into Schoology the first time with my students, we open the folder for the first unit, I direct them to the first page in the folder. It’s a unit plan or outline to follow, and each item in the unit is given a task, goal or quest number. See below:

screenshot-2016-09-18-at-7-54-13-am

Each of these items is then linked to the assignment, video, link that they need to accomplish. What I’ve found is that students can independently move through the tasks, I can assist where necessary, as well as give target dates on where they should be in the module, and spend class time in conferences with students. An ordering system like this also makes it easy for kids who weren’t in class to figure out what they need to accomplish.

While I don’t share it here with students, simply to try to keep it streamlined, I have each of these tasks linked to a Common Core standard.

3. No substitutions. One of my fears when starting to use a LMS was that students would have problems with the technology or wouldn’t be able to find materials, or that they just wouldn’t work. When students came to me and said, ” I couldn’t find this,” or “It didn’t work,” I was pretty accommodating and took things in paper, made extra paper copies, and allowed excuses.

As I’ve grown more comfortable, I’ve stopped that enabling. Once it’s made clear that this is the mode by which business will be conducted, these problems disappear. Teachers shouldn’t have to apologize for their planning, how they give resources, or the integration of technology into the classroom. Additionally, at all levels we need to stop rationalizing, privileging and normalizing the idea that “Computers don’t like me.”

4. Model. With the above in mind, I realized that anything I wanted to do in Schoology, I had to teach and model. Once I showed them how to submit an assignment, I knew they could do it, and then there were no excuses. We do this with other things, so why not with this? Link students with the Schoology help menu, which is rich in resources for how to do things. Teaching students to use help menus is a valuable skill in terms of self-reliance in a 21st century world.

5. Reward. In trying to gamify the first module in one of my courses, I reward students with 24 hour extensions for completing groups of tasks, which I call levels. This has been an inexpensive means to reinforce routines, procedures and tools that we’ll be using. Kids want the small tokens I give them and the badges I developed. Schoology let me monitor and keep this system organized.

My strategy in working with cool new tools and strategies has always been to jump in and see what happens. After the class ends, assess the fall-out and then make it better. If you take this approach, and you’re jumping into Schoology, just keep going, building, and making it better for you and your students.

For those who move with more caution, then, consider the above, and then just start, go slow, figure out how it will work for you.

Either way, keep going and making the classroom better for you and your students.

 

From the Frontiers of Digital Leadership

Our Summer Learning Challenge this week was to explore ways that we could become digital leaders, moving from the simple digital citizen. This post explores the first part of the challenge.

The first part of the challenge asked us to predict the outcomes of Googling ourselves. Then, to do it, and then essentially to reflect on these predictions and outcomes.

I’ve heard about people doing this, and I’ve never done it primarily because I don’t see myself as all that interesting. I know the stuff that I do, and that’s good enough. Yet, when I considered doing it, my first reaction was to feel fear. What would I find? Would there be anything embarrassing? What would I do if such a thing came to light?

It’s important to note that, most of the time,  I use my active imagination not for creative  ventures, but instead to let my anxiety and paranoia get the best of my heart rate and blood pressure.

Predictions for what Google would reveal about me: my races, my blog, my social media presence on Twitter, Facebook. Maybe LinkedIn (but I haven’t updated that profile in five years). I also figured there would be pictures from the newspaper of family members who have recently died.

Here’s what I saw:

Screenshot 2016-07-25 at 4.37.44 PM

So, yep, there were the profile pics from my Twitter and blog, a picture of my daughter that float around social media, the pictures that I figured would be there of my mom and grandfather who died in the past year.

There’s a picture I put up on Twitter from several years ago after a frost run in Mendon Ponds park and the header image of my blog from the top of the gorge in Robert Tremain State Park.

Then, I also had a laugh. There was a picture of my builidng principal, Vern Tenney, and our out-going Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Julie Winston. My good friend Tony’s profile picture is there. Anyone who Googled me, and saw them…well, that would be a Freaky Friday.

Beyond that, there were a bunch of images of people I don’t know, have never seen and could only guess at how they were linked with me.

My other accounts came up: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress. I try to keep my facebook locked-down, but everything else is the way it should be. Because most of the races I run are catalogued in Ultrasignup.com, I could see those results listed there. Also, because I’m a public employee, the link to finding my salary is given there too.

I liken the experience of Googling the self to getting a credit report or checking bank accounts for signs of fraud and hacking. It’s a great way to take stock of what you look like to pretty much anyone else in the world who may care to take note. It’s a reminder that your presence is there, that it can be accessed, taken and used in the broadest meanings of those words. There are media outlets and creations, such as this blog and my Twitter feed, where I work to be a responsible part of a conversations which are important to my life. It’s also a reminder, that through my job as a teacher, I’m part of conversations whether I want to be or not.

Flipping-Out Teachers

Last year, as part of a School Improvement Planning Team (SIPT) Subcommittee on Online Instruction, we’ve worked on developing a plan to get all teachers practicing online instruction. It was a great experience. Below I discuss some of the things we did and what I might do in the future to improve upon them.

1. Defining a Belief Statement to drive actions of the committee, and eventually faculty. There are lots of good ones on line to use as springboards for your discussion and as models for crafting your own.

2. Working to define what actually constitutes online instruction. Do we mean conducting online research, submitting assignments to a shared folder, using Google forms to give quizzes, using Edmodo or some other LMS or CMS. These are conversations that have to be had. Each community will have their own definition of

3. Invite union representation. We had a such a person early on in our process. It was necessary that we established on-line learning as an enhancement of the classroom experience in which teachers were vital to facilitating learning, and not a replacement of teachers. However, encourage continued union representation. Once the union is sure the goal isn’t to replace teachers, they should continue to be part of the process of developing meetings, PD, and as another conduit of information for the committee.

4. We conducted a survey to gauge teacher comfort, skill-level, and current implementation. It showed what we predicted–teachers at all places and levels. Not so helpful. We found that some people know technology and some don’t. Don’t survey if you think you can reliably predict what people will say.

After we did the above, we wanted to accomplish the following:

  • Flip a facculty meeting.
  • Build faculty skills to bring proficiency in online instruction skills to 100%. We wanted to use a gamfied system to train people in the digital technology skills and hardware they’d need to create on-line coursework. We have laid the foundation for this, but haven’t implemented it yet. It’s sitting in limbo right now.

Here’s what I learned:

Everything will take more time than you think. Planning our flipped faculty meeting took weeks. We had to plan a discussion. Find a topic. Set questions. Establish the rooms and the groups we’d use. We had to train facilitators. We had a dozen people involved.

As part of this, we attempted to use WordPress as a discussion platform. Good idea, but epic fail. Sites crashed and comments didn’t show up fast enough. Our tech-weary faculty gave up quick.

Don’t bite off too much, and keep expecatations low. When I teach, I’m all for plunging in and going for it, and seeing what happens. In doing so, I’ve done a lot with platforms like Edmodo and Canvas. I’ve done great on-line synchronous and a-synchronous discussions. I love the experimentation, adventure and challenge of this stuff. Just because I love it, didn’t mean some of my peers would. The more I talked to people, I found that in terms of online environments, email might be the farthest reaches of someone’s frontier. Online documents, cloud storage…for some this might as well be Greek, to use a well-worn cliche.

Doubt is part of the process and doesn’t mean that it’s bad. While our flipped faculty meeting bit it, I don’t think that it was all bad. We had some exposure to the possibilities of these kinds of meetings= and a kind of platform that we might use for flipped meetings. We also had faculty see how our facilitators worked around tech issues that emerge in the middle of a plan. Tech in the classroom will never be fool proof and there will be problems. Teachers have to figure out how to be flexible and go. Teachers did this before digital technology, they should bring those same skills forward into computer labs.