Resource Round Up

As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.

I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.

Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.

As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:

BestSchools.com

First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.

Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:

The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.

The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.

Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:

In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…

Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.

Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.

BestSchools.com Screenshot
BestSchools.com Screenshot

Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.

OnlineMasterPrograms.org

The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:

Are you affiliated with the programs featured?

OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.

How do you make money?

All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.

So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.

OnlineMastersPrograms.org
OnlineMastersPrograms.org

The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.

Start Blogging Online

Finally, I got an email from Mike Wallagher who manages Start Blogging Online. His purpose is straight forward:

I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.

In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.

StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot
StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot

He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”

Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).

So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.

Addition: August 3, 2015

I was recently contacted by Matt Banner from On Blast Blog about his resource “Blogging in The Classroom: How to Get Started.” His post provides the following sections:

  • Ways to bring blogging into your classroom and daily lesson plans
  • The litany of benefits blogging brings to education
  • Deciding the purpose and goals of your blog
  • Setting up your classroom’s blog
  • Easy ways to promote and grow your classroom blog

He provides many useful links and suggestions, so I encourage you to check his post out as well.


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Welcome IWP Colleauges

IWP LogoThis morning, I am looking forward to a conversation with colleagues from the Indiana Writing Project about the ways that I use blogging and Twitter as a writer during their Advanced Institute: Get Your Write On! My colleague Susanna Benko will be getting the conversation started, and then I will be joining in to answer some questions that they have prepared for me.

Since I am sure that the time will go fast, I’ve prepared a few opening remarks here on my blog for them to read ahead of time. Then, we can use our time together for more of a Q/A.

How do you see yourself as a writer who uses digital spaces – like blogs and Twitter –as a way to reach others? What do you most often write about? Who do you see as your audience(s)?

One of the beliefs that I hold as a writer in any space, and especially in digital spaces, is that I want to contribute to the conversation. How can I add value to what other people are saying? How can my new ideas, reflections on old ideas, and notes that I scribe from other presentations offer something to other educators? If I am not contributing to the conversation in a productive, professional way, then I need to question why I am writing at all here on my blog, with Twitter, with my wiki, or any other digital forum.

As the title of my blog suggests, I most often write about ideas related to teaching writing in this digital age. I do not do personal blogging, and I reserve Facebook for any family photos or political opinions. So, my topics are mostly educational and, somewhat benign. I want to blog more about educational policy and politics, though I haven’t brought myself to do so yet. Here, I stick with topics related to writing, literacy more broadly, and educational technology.

My audiences vary, and are worldwide. Sadly, lots are spambots! However, I do know that I reach other educators because, most importantly, I hear back from them. They put comments on my blog at @reply me on Twitter. Again, I try to add to the conversation. I rarely check stats, but I know that I get many enough on my blog from Google and other search engines to know that it really is a person seeing my work.

What challenges do you see for teacher-writers who want to use digital spaces as writers more often, and how do you suggest teachers navigate those challenges?

This is a timely and useful question. And I have both a philosophical and technical answer. In terms of the philosophy, as we find ourselves in an increasingly hostile political climate, we as teacher-writers need to offer insightful visions into our classrooms that the media, policymakers, and the public may not see. While there are a number of overtly political blogs and bloggers, you do not have to take that stance as a teacher-writer. In the process of writing about your own experiences, you are taking a stance that shows how important the work of teaching is.

In terms of the technical challenges, the barriers to entry on blogging and social networking, at least initially, are really low (as you are likely figuring out today). Once you are part of the edublogosphere, then the technical hurdle is getting noticed (that is, having others find your blog or tweets, read them, and reply). There are some technical (and rhetorical) moves that can help with that such as linking to other blogs, using @replies and hashtags, and becoming active in regular Twitter chats.

What other advice might you give writers who are wanting to blog or use Twitter –especially novice users of either medium?

This sounds so cliche, I know, but just jump in, as you are today. You have to start somewhere, so just get started. Dip your toes in the stream of ideas, and you will soon be swimming. For some more specific advice, I would encourage you to:

  • Learn about RSS and begin using a tool like Feedly or Flipboard
  • After you sign up for Twitter, begin to use a social media management tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite
  • Take the advice of estblished edubloggers, of which there are too many to name here in the time I have…
  • Contribute and add value to the conversation!

My hope is that these responses get the conversation moving along, and I look forward to hearing more thoughts on this from my IWP colleagues later this morning.


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Updates from Recent Collegial Conversations

Over the past few months, I’ve continue to have wonderful opportunities to speak at conferences and workshops, publish my work, and then share in conversations with fellow teachers. Two conversations in particular stand out as we had for the end of the calendar year.

First, Kristen Turner and I were contacted earlier this fall by Brian Newman, a high school teacher from Joliet, Illinois. He had read our English Journal piece, “No longer a luxury: Digital literacy can’t wait,” and wanted to ask us our opinions about blogging and how to engage students as writers. After recommending Youth Voices as a tremendous resource, I offered some specific advice about having students respond to one another:

Over time, as they post — and respond — I would encourage you to pursue some self-evaluation strategies. Ask them to go back and review their best blog post, and why they think it is so. Ask them, too, to review the best blog post from someone else that they have read. Then compare those posts. In that process of writing and responding, talk with them about the power of peer response and specific praise and constructive criticism.

Recently, Brian wrote us back and told us about the work that he and Sean Hackney has shared on their blog, Ancient Geeks. In this post, he discusses the end of semester writing conferences that he had with his student bloggers.  He outlines 13 steps to take in order to become a better blogger and teacher of blogging:

  1. Make the posts occur regularly.
  2. Give them choices.
  3. Use the blogs as formative writing practice for summative writing assignments.
  4. Check in with them regularly.
  5. Get testimonials from previous students about the positives and drawbacks of the various blog platforms.
  6. Make them read each others’ blogs.
  7. Use technorati.com, the blog search engine, to get them reading blogs.
  8. Conference with them.
  9. Grade them with care, because they care about being assessed on how they feel.
  10. Identify your tech wizards in class and empower them to help others.
  11. Create opportunities for kids to teach each other how to do make posts more interesting.
  12. Help them expand the audience: email the links to parents, other teachers, or other classes.
  13. Oh yeah, and write along with them. That’s what got Hackney and I writing this blog in the first place.

I appreciate the work that Brian and Sean are doing with their high school writers, and hope that they continue to find success in the new year.

Image courtesy of Katharine Hale (http://teachitivity.wordpress.com/)
Image courtesy of Katharine Hale (http://teachitivity.wordpress.com/)

The second teacher with whom I’ve been communicating this semester is Katharine Hale, a fifth-grade teacher from Arlington, Virginia, who is working diligently to integrate digital writing into her traditional writing workshop. She blogs at Teachitivity and in her recent post, “A Fresh Approach to Fostering Digital Writers,” Katharine describes the multiple goals that she had for integrating technology and making her classroom workshop time more efficient.

The entire post is worth reading, as she has numerous lesson ideas and examples. She concludes that:

As I said in the beginning, this was my first attempt at truly integrating technology, specifically the iPad, into the writing experience. It was incredible to finish the unit ON TIME with not one, but two published texts. I especially loved the interactive flipped lesson. I felt I had gained a whole class period of instruction because I did not need to use class time to assess students and determine small groups. If you read their digital literary essays, you may even notice that many of my students’ conclusion paragraphs are the strongest part of their essay!

Katharine worked critically and creatively to both integrate the use of WordFoto and Thinglink, allowing her students the opportunity to go from brainstorming to publication on both a traditional essay and multiple pieces of digital writing. As with Brian and Sean, I wish Katharine luck in the new year as well.

Thanks to all of my colleagues who have shared their work — and their students’ work — with me over this past year. There are more books, blog posts, chapters, presentations, workshops, and other pieces of writing on their way in the new year. I will try to blog some more over the holidays, but if I don’t get to it then I thank you now for another year of reading my work and invite you to stay in touch.


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