Reflections on learning about Web 2.0: from complexity to coherence

This image of the climber is a metaphor for my learning of Web 2.0 tools.  There’s risk, you have to be focused on your purpose, fit to take on the task, but can find reward when you arrive at your destination.  As teachers and teacher-librarians, more than ever we have to be prepared to keep climbing, be dedicated to our own learning, and committed to guiding our students through the rapidly expanding digital world.  Like the steep climb, it’s easy to be intimidated by the sheer mass of information available on the web and the explosion of growth it continues to enjoy.

This course on Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning has shifted my thinking completely about the role of technology in the classroom.   Our students don’t know a world without the ability to communicate, socialize, learn, and explore online and if we’re not out there with them, there’s no one to guide them and teach them to be safe and avoid the pitfalls of various online environments.   Among the demographic of teachers today, a common refrain is “this is overwhelming!”  Like the climber, teacher-librians are situated to “show them the ropes”.

The ability to access information, assess it and produce new understandings is transforming at break neck speed with new tools being developed all the time.  The internet as we know it, is young and Web 2.o opening the web to all, even younger. Anyone can become an author of a blog, wiki, podcast, video or prezi and put their ideas ‘out there’ for public viewing and commentary.  Out students are creating content daily through video sharing on You Tube or running dialogue on Face Book.  So, from our perspective as educators, how do we turn these experiences into learning opportunities?

By reflecting on the exploration of Web 2.0 tools and how we can use them in our classrooms and libraries, we avoid the heap at the bottom of the learning curve.  Some of those tools that stand out for me from this course are RSS, Diigo, Tweetdeck, podcasting and Librarything.com.  While I was familiar with sites such as Diigo, Twitter, and Google Reader before this course, rolling up my sleeves and exploring them further has improved my understanding of them and how they can help students, teachers and other colleagues that I work with.  Let me explain what I mean by looking at my top four favourite tools and the top three things I learned from others on the course:

1.  Photo sharing – to learn about this tool, I chose Flickr.  This is a popular photo sharing site that I had never used before and through exploration, discovered a vast resource of incredible photographs, searchable by tools provided on the site.  Its potential as a tool for students is incredible as well – they can share their work either privately or publicly and add labels and captions.  Teachers should be aware of a tool such as Flickr and exploring their own understanding of it as a teaching resource.  This would be one tool that I would promote among my staff.  Why?  Digital learning is enhanced by thoughtful, engaging visuals.  To enrich inquiry learning, promote sharing and collaboration, Flickr is easy to join, use and share. Here is my home page:

2.  Video sharing – by far, the popular choice in this category is You Tube.  It contains a huge collection of videos and is well used by amateur and professional vidoegraphers alike.  I was aware of You Tube before the course and a fan of Teacher Tube, a version for educators.  One of the video categories that I referred to time and again in the course was made by Lee Lefever called “Common Craft”, how to videos for Web 2.0 tools. These short video explanations of tools including blogs, wikis, and social media I would certainly direct my colleagues to if they were seeking to understand a tool they are considering for their classroom.  Here is a great example of how to create a wiki and why you would use it:

This leads to an interesting point in the discussion of Web 2.0 tools for learning – knowing why we are using them.  It’s all well and good that they are out there on the web but if we as educators are not reflecting on why we are teaching with them and how they can improve the learning experiences of our students, then using them is a waste of time.  If we want our students to research and communicate in a medium that they are using extensively outside of school, then it is our responsibility to connect with them in that medium.

During the blogging process, I had an Ah Ha moment after the post on video sharing.  It’s ironic when I think about it but I didn’t know how to get a video to play on my blog.  When I did learn it, there was no looking back and it is one of the handy things I didn’t know before blogging for this course.  It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of Web 2.0 learning but a critical one for demonstrating and sharing learning.

Part B to video sharing:  A video tool that’s lots of fun to work with is Animoto.  It allows the user to easily create an account, upload images and video and Animoto formats the content with music of your choice and creates something like a music video.  This is another presentation tool that, in the video sharing category, adds to the students’ repertoire of tools to demonstrate learning.

3.  Social bookmarking – Here is one of those Web 2.0 tools that the more I use it, the more I wonder how I ever got along without it.  Gone are the scraps of paper, post-it notes, and scribblings on the backs of pages where I jotted URL’s I wanted to remember.  I was introduced to Diigo and began using it during a previous course on inquiry learning.  It allows you to bookmark those sites, links, articles and images you come across on the web that you want to remember or refer to in research.  It was easy to create an account and begin copying and pasting links to save.  You can choose your settings  – private or public – and organize your links once your account is set up.  It is also easy to set up groups so that people collaborating on a project can gather resources in one location and share them immediately with their team.  Here is an example of some recent bookmarks in Diigo:

If your Diigo account settings are public, then you can direct people to your page and they can access your bookmarks directly.

Educators should be using Diigo or another social bookmarking site now.  It’s an essential organizing tool they need, their students need it and it’s necessary in the face of information deluge.  Here’s a screen shot of how easy it is to add URL’s:

Social bookmarking is so valuable to any work online that I would want to share this with my colleagues right away.  I think an inservice session near the beginning of a school year would be ideal for setting up teachers with a tool box of online tools that they could work with during the year.  After all, supporting staff and students is one of the key roles of the teacher-librarian.

4.  RSS – Short for ‘real simple syndication’ was one of the last topics we explored on this course.  This is another feature of using the web to meet your information needs that needs to be shared with staff so that they can make the most of their searching online.  So many of my generation feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice online that RSS in combination with an aggregator such as Google Reader allows you to track the URL’s you want and not waste your time wandering from site to blog to link.  This is a tool I would also want to share with my staff early on in the year so that they could see the benefits of keeping up with sites of interest to themselves and their students.

A Google Reader account is easy to set up and manage.  Pasting in URL’s of bloggers you want to follow is easy using the ‘Add a subscription’ button in the upper left of the page.  Tracking with this tool makes the web personal and meaningful to you, the user.  Please see my last post, “Drinking from the fire hose” for a more in depth discussion of Google Reader and other aggregators for managing online information.  For students, real-time learning can take place on a topic when URL’s with RSS feeds are added to an aggregator and followed regularly.

Top three things I’ve learned from others on the course:

When I first thought about what to include in this section, I was uncertain what I would choose because I learned so many things from the sharing of other students and our professor.  When a course is set up using a constructivist model, the contributions to learning can go in many directions.  This is a huge benefit to those new to Web 2.0!  So, I narrowed down the possibilities to three cool things I learned:

1.  Tweetdeck:  new to Twitter last summer, I never imagined needing a tool to manage twitter traffic but after hearing students talk about how helpful it is, I signed up and was converted.  It runs in the background on your computer and you can follow links tweeted by those whom you follow or ignore them.  The choice is yours and that’s the wonderful thing about it.  The downside is that it can eat up time like no tomorrow so you have to be disciplined with how much you use it and when.

2.  Jing:  It took me a while to begin using Jing but can’t imagine being without it now.  It’s a tool for capturing screen shots and transferring them to your blog.  For our blogs, this has to be the easiest tool to sign up for and use.  The download to my laptop only took a few minutes and a little yellow sun hovers discretely in the corner of my screen until I need it.  I have yet to master saving video clips but I’ll get there.   When I consider what I didn’t know before this course, I’m sure now that I can learn new tools and if not, find the resources online to teach myself and others.

3.  Links to bloggers:  There are many links that fit into this category.  The reason I’ve added it as one of my top three things I’ve learned from others is that with all of us on the course from different areas of education, we follow different bloggers and have interests specific to the areas in which we teach.  So when the discussion turned to writing and voice or thinking about social media, links to thinkers and experts in these areas were shared.  You Tube clips of TED talks added to our thinking about ideas and concepts that, had others not posted them, we may not have come across on our own.

Some final thoughts:

Two things come to mind here; one, that many hands make light work and two, that alone we couldn’t have generated the content of the course without everyone sharing their finds.  This is Web 2.0 technology allowing all of us to come together, learn, discuss, share and contribute to the larger ongoing conversations taking place in the blogsphere, as Will Richardson puts it.  As for myself, I’m on the rock face and not letting go anytime soon. There is much to keep learning and sharing.  There is a place, no, a need for Web 2.0 tools in libraries as students learn about them and use them in their classrooms.  Library blogs can take many forms and become a main information source for library patrons.  It’s a personal goal to explore the possibility of a blog for our school library complete with contributions from students.

I will be keeping up with Google Reader and Twitter and bookmarking as I carry on with my learning in teacher-librarianship.  The presentation tools we explored can be used in future assignments and should be.  Though I struggled a bit at the outset with Prezi, it’s a fun tool that can bring a concept to life.  Podcasting is also fun to do – kids like to see and hear themselves so this tool will certainly have a place in our classrooms.   Blogging, of course, is the vehicle that brings all of these tools together in a dynamic and interactive manner.  So, here we go!

References:

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin.

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