Monday, November 29, 2010

Are you part of the global conversation?

To begin this week's post, I ask you this: "Are you part of the global conversation?" 

I am.  I am because I blog. 

During these past three months while blogging for my Web 2.0 course, I have reached over 600 readers from over 10 different countries. Almost 1/3 (186) of whom live beyond the borders of my own country, and among those, half of whom live beyond my continent.  I have become part of the global conversation.  How about you?

Image capture from stats

Blogs: First for me...

I love learning.  Even more than learning, I love sharing my learning.  In my last teaching assignment as a literacy teacher, I had the luxury of a very collaborative workspace, knowledgeable and open-minded colleagues, and a wealth of opportunities to learn. This fall, I will be boldly honest and say that I was struggling with the reality of being a full-time distance student. I missed my colleagues and students; they fueled me to learn, think, create and generate.  Learning in isolation was a new, and very lonely, experience. Until I discovered that I wasn't learning alone; I just needed to adjust to my new classroom and staffroom, the one without four walls.

After that, it's been rather exciting to recognize that I have learned from, and may have provided new learning or thinking opportunities for someone else, whom I have never met. I vividly recall the first time I discovered the "Stats" bar on my blogger dashboard and realized I had an audience from outside of Canada. Someone outside of my own house was actually reading my blog!
In his book, Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms, Will Richardson (2010) speaks about the motivation this experience can have.

"That potential audience is one of the most important aspects of the Read/Write Web. The idea that the relevance of student work no longer ends at the classroom door can not only be a powerful motivator but can also create a significant shift in the way we think about the assignments and work we ask of our students in the first place." (p. 27)

For me, the potential for a piece of the global audience was a huge motivator. I reluctantly admit that I have a slight competitive streak in me (okay, maybe not so slight) and coupled with the even slighter (okay, even less slight) perfectionist tendency to overachieve, as soon as I thought about this I wanted to post for the simple sake of improving my blog stats.  Not to compete with anyone but myself, just aim high or at least aim to improve.

And... I had some highs. Take my Wiki blog post on October 25th (see stats below) which brought in the most views of my blog from around the globe. 

Okay, no million viewers, YET. Still working on that. However, I had commented to my husband that day about how excited I was to see so many global readers to my blog.  At one time, I had 16 views from Spain in just one hour. I remember saying to him that this was likely because I had discussed the Ford Motor Company in my blog.  He laughed. He doubted that a group of people in Spain googling Ford (millions of very poor Google searchers aside) would happen upon my educational technology blog on wikis; he further proposed that perhaps someone had shared my blog post amongst their staff or workplace. Really?! Is that possible?! Well, you never know, I guess. But I'll use the words Ford Motor Company here, too, just to check! So, if you are here to learn about the Ford Motor Company and have yet to discover that I won't be selling or reviewing any Fords here... I'd highly recommend that you check out Google search basics - Web search help. For the rest of you who want to learn more about my experiences becoming a blogger, read on.

Now, as I pondered over this during the past week I realized that my top blogs were the blogs I liked best, too. They were the blogs where I felt I had really understood my readers and connected best with both the content and audience by stirring the cognitive soup a little.  Ultimately, these blogs had solid content, but equally important, a strong voice.  I knew we had discussed the trait of voice in our course discussions, so in many ways I wasn't surprised by this realization.  I decided that voice is worth more in depth discussion, so I have written an additional post on my Literacy Lady blog to further my learning and thinking about this important part of blogging.  See my blog post, Lost your blog voice?! for details.

After reading that post, I'd invite you read my very first blog post...
A little assessment for learning check-up... I'd say I've grown a little as a blogger.  Well, on a positive, at least there were no spelling errors in that 20 word post. By the way, I never posted another blog post on the Literacy Lady until summer of 2010. So much for sharing my literacy learning journey. Believe me, it wasn't that I didn't learn. In my life, learning is a constant; blogging wasn't... at the time.

So besides searching for that inner blog voice, what else have I learned about being a blogger? I learned how easy it is to maintain a blog... allowing blogs to be powerful, flexible, ever-changing dynamic publications. I learned how to embed using the Edit HTML tab. I learned that blogs are much more than words, but tell stories through video, images, links, embedded objects and more! I learned how to add widgets galore for all my technology trials (maps, feeds, blog rolls...), you name it, I tried it!  Along that line, I learned that it can be very frustrating to add podcasts to your blog! Why is this? How can audio be so much more difficult that video. Ugh! I learned to value the blog of close friends of my parents, Ann and Barry Lange, who have dedicated to their sailing blog , posting on average 100 blog posts per year since 2005! Awesome work, Ann and Barry. By the way, we all still read your blog from time to time and good luck on your around the world sail! But most of all, I learned to appreciate the time, energy and committment that is made by all those great bloggers out there who have contributed to my learning.

Do I see my use of blogs continuing beyond this course? I think it would be fair to say that I see my blog use not only continuing, but growing, in the future. Now that I am in the global conversation, why would I stop? Not just for me, but for all my learners. 

So if you aren't in the global conversation, get blogging!  Here's how to get started:
1. Select your blogging tool. Richardson recommends Blogger and with experience in both Blogger and Edublogs, I would agree with Richardson.  It's free, simple and fast. The hardest part is selecting your blog title and finding an available URL.
2. Create your first post. Take Richardson's advice and start small.  Perhaps you don't need to start quite as small as my first post, but something in between would be nice.  However, write whatever you are comfortable with.
3. Try playing with the font, adding images, links, videos or even embedding items using the toolbar.

4. When you are ready, preview, save or publish your post! Voila. Easy as that. Really.

5.  Create and edit new posts, view comments, view, set or change settings, view or change your blog design, monetize (haven't used that!) and view your stats (my favourite option)!

6. Experiment, enjoy. Reflect, create. Discuss, collaborate. Enjoy your new global conversation.

Blogs... next for learning.

Blogs are powerful learning tools, for learners of all ages.  Richardson provides educators with many suggestions for incorporating blogs in the classroom: online filing cabinets, e-portfolios, collaborative spaces for reading and writing, school web sites, for starters.

One comment made by Richardson in his book that really resonated with me this week was, "the Weblog is a democratic tool that supports different learning styles. For those students who might be more reticent in class, a blog gives them the opportunity to share in writing the ideas they may be too shy to speak." (p. 27)  This statement really reminded me of one student's comments from a video in my last week's Twitter post. That student had identified the ability to micro-blog as an important entry into the classroom learning community. Without such a community, many students would remain observers, and may never become active participators in the classroom network. If you have ever done the yarn test to give evidence to your classroom discussions (passing  ball of yarn every time a student speaks), you will likely see that a few students (and adults) control the bulk of classroom conversation.  A blog creates an equal space for all learners, regardless of their ability to engage in outward conversation.   

The great part of blogging is that it's simple enough that learners of all ages can become part of this global conversaton. This past week, I followed a Tweet which lead me to classmate Franki's daughter's blog, Fun Things to Make and Franki's personal reflections in her own blog,  Blogging with Ana . I was absolutely amazed by the learning that Ana experienced during her blogging encounter and the honest reflections from her blogging mother.  It really inspired me to think about creating a blog with my own 11 year old daughter. Wouldn't this be a great way to share our upcoming trip to Panama beyond the traditional powerpoint that she has been assigned? What an incredible way to teach responsibility, digital citizenship, online safety and technology skills! Thank you for the inspiration, Franki and Ana! 

When placed in the classroom context, blogging serves all these and more.  Consider these additional uses of a classroom blog to:
  • post classroom information to keep students and parents up-to-date
  • provide exemplars of quality work for student assignments
  • share work globally and receive feedback from larger community
  • engage students in the process of commenting and taking part in the global conversation
I can't leave without mentioning my very favourite student blog: Laura's Life. An avid reader, Laura set a goal in second grade to read all of the Newbery Award winning books and blog about them on her site by the time she reached middle school in fifth grade.  Isn't that quite a lofty goal for a 7 or 8 year old?  Believe it or not, Laura reached her goal. Every Newbery winner has been read and reviewed by Laura on her blog (beginning with 1922 Newbery winner, The Story of Mankind).  Laura continues to read, read, read and I am sure that seeing her blog will inspire your learners, young and old!

Blogs... for professional learners

This week, I really enjoyed reading and reflecting on Dean Shareski's November 18th blog, How to Make Better Teachers.  Shareski opens with a very powerful opinion statement:

"Want to instantly create better teachers? I know how. One word. Blogging."

Shareski gives a convincing and thoughtful post, and along with comments from bloggers in the field, I hope this post sparks up further global conversation about the power of blogging as a professional learning tool.  As a staff developer myself (on leave), I agree wholeheartedly and have recognized the potential of blogs for some time (despite being a non-blogger at the time for which I am ashamed to admit).  My colleagues and I tried to initiate a culture of blogging last year through the creation of an Edublog for grade 3 to 5 learners in our professional learning group (  As you will see, it was a bit of a bust. One comment was received. Where did we go wrong?  I wonder if our own lack of blogging played a part in this! Ah, yeah! I wouldn't doubt that.  How can you sell what you don't own for yourself? Along with that, I see a few added glitches. Edublogs, I mean 'Ad-You-blogs' was certainly not the best platform.  The design... not so great. I also don't think the power is there unless teachers take ownership for themselves... and create their own!  But they have to see the potential and want it for themselves first.  Then we have to provide the resources (support, training and TIME) to make it happen, too!  Finally, we have to ask ourselves critically what can we take off the teacher's plate at the same time. Why would they still need to do a written professional learning plan for starters? 

Richardson also writes of additional benefits of weblogs for teachers which include:
  • reflection
  • logging experiences
  • unit plan details
  • reflecting on what worked/didn't work
  • sharing tips, tools, insights, ideas,how-tos
  • exploration of issues in education
For me, I see blogging as a professional tool to:
  • build my knowledge of the Read/Write web
  • reflect, consolidate and share my learning
  • record my learning (my professional learning plan)
  • and of course, enter the global conversation
For an additional resource on professional blogging, I loved reading:
Why do I blog?

Bringing content to you: RSS (Really Simple Syndication)

One of the most difficult challenges facing readers and writers of the WWW is gathering and keeping up on content.  I love, love, love my Google Reader account! Did I say that I love my Google Reader account?!  It brings the content right to you!  I don't know how I managed before, to be honest. Google Reader is simply an 'aggregator' or mailbox that allows RSS feeds to be delivered to your inbox.  No need to hunt, scour or search.  This is one great tool that you can put to work for you. For free. 

Although I found setting up my Google Reader a simple task, I learned a few things the hard way. If you want to create RSS news or Twitter feeds, make sure you select your tags carefully.  Not sure what I was thinking when I set up a feed for the keyword 'inquiry', but within 24 hours I had 1000+ feeds.  I can assure you it was quite a shock to open my Google Reader account the next morning!  Take it from me, select several key words "inquiry learning education"... Enough said. I may need that Google Search help website myself! Here's a little intro to my Google reader account.

 For further learning about Google Reader, a great website:
Google Reader for Beginners

Finally, have a great week.  Next week, I'll be making some final reflections on my learning this term and plan to create a little Do You Know Web 2.0? quiz.  Should be a fun way to celebrate my learning!

In closing, I leave you with these wise words from What Ed Said.. equally fitting for me today!

No comments:

Post a Comment