Thoughts on “All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules”

Today, Andrea and I are presenting at the annual MSU Tech Conference, and we are both sitting here in the kiva, Macs at the ready, to listen to the following panel discussion:

All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules

Google recently released a number of powerful, free tools that are very useful for classroom teachers. This presentation will showcase some of these tools, in particular: Calendar, Blogger, Reader, and Personalized Home Page. Panelists will provide brief overviews of each tool separately and its implication for educational practice. In addition, we will look across all four tools and envision how they might be used collaboratively for teaching purposes. There will be a follow up workshop on this topic presented during the afternoon session.

CTT > Center for Teaching & Technology

So, here are some notes and thoughts on the session…

Intro: Two Learning Tasks

  1. A new framework for evaluating technology
  2. Four particular tools that are important for your work

Key Principles for Evaluating New Technology

  • Free — we are looking for technologies that are freely available to anyone
    • Having a hard time getting technologies that cost money
    • Parents and students can use these technologies outside of school
    • State funding is dropping for K-12 education
    • Paying for a site license is expensive, whereas web-based tools are usually free
    • This will be important as students apply technologies in their lives outside of schools
    • Given the number of computers that are available in home and school, free web-based tools are critical
  • Future — what are the prospects that the tools that we are looking at will be around for the long haul
    • Technologies change rapidly, so knowing whether a tool will be around is important
    • Does the company or tool have a history that suggests it will be around?
    • For instance, Google has a high future potential in terms of stock, for sure, but the fact is that almost everyone is using it in some way, shape, or form
    • If you can find tools from good companies that are free, then they are likely to be around for a long time
    • Also, what support is available? For instance, Google has help centers for each of its tools.
  • Friendliness — how does the tool work on its own and how does it partner with other technologies
    • Traditionally, when we pick a tool it does one thing well. Now, we need to have technologies that synthesize and expand its purpose and functionality
    • Technology report card:
      • Works to capacity
      • Works well with others — does it add value as a tool in your life?
    • Does it work across populations that we serve: teachers, students, and parents?
      • The more it works across these populations, the better the tool

Four Google Tools for Educators

  • Calendar
    • What happens when your calendar can talk to other calendars and the people that you serve?
    • OK… I got off on a tangent trying to install “Spanning Sync” for awhile…
  • Blogger
    • What are blogs and why do they matter?
      • 50 million blogs worldwide
      • That number is doubling every 200 days (6.5 months)
      • Over 100 times bigger than just 3 years ago
      • Approximately 1.6 million posts per day
      • 11 of top 90 news sites are blogs
      • Tool for education that enables reflection, activism, and social transformation
    • Blogs allow for easy linking to other websites, blogs, pictures, and other content
    • They differ from basic websites because they allow comments
    • Tagging and allowing readers to go back through and look at themes that develop over time
    • Profiles allow students to fill out information, safely, to share info about themselves
      • We can create a class profile and highlight personal interests with tags
    • Blogrolls allow you to create links to other blogs that you are reading
    • Can use blogs for multiple purposes
      • Personal reflections
      • Taking notes
      • Class blog
      • Students posting their own work
    • Blogs can engage students in particularly powerful ways
      • A student who is writing about a tree in his backyard and how that can expand into other areas of science and inquiry
      • They can become engaged in the aesthetics of the work
      • They can become creatively invested in the work
      • They are engaged in a shared experience that contributes to the classroom community
    • RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary)
      • You can choose what continuous information to receive in your RSS feeder, for instance, from your students
    • But, can my students do that?
      • Yes, the interface of Blogger is very clean and highly usable
      • It is highly customizable
      • Blogger also allows you to make things as public or private as you want
  • Reader
    • Google Reader works as a friend to some of the technologies that we have discussed already
    • If you go to a web page that doesn’t have an RSS feed, what do you do to find out if there is new information?
      • You can look for a “last updated” note, but you don’t always know what is exactly updated
    • One of the things that an aggregator allows us to do is to pool information from multiple feeds
      • It pulls in content that you haven’t read so that you do not have to go back to each individual page to figure out what you have, or haven’t, read
    • What does Google Reader look like?
      • It shows you all of your feeds, what you have read, what you haven’t
    • All of this is based on RSS
    • You can connect to students’ and teachers’ blogs, link to news sites, calendars, and anything else that is RSS subscribable (sp?)
    • Students might have a number of things that they can bring into their Google Reader, some related to official academic or news sites, other blogs (including the teachers’), items of personal interest, and friends
  • Personal Homepage
    • Ran out of time to talk about this

As I think about this session and the few times that Joe and Cherice asked the audience, “Have you heard of __?” or “Are you using ___?” — and see how many people were, and were not, using certain tools, I realize that the amount of knowledge that teachers need to have to be able to stay connected. It is a different mindset, and I think that for all the technology professional development sessions that I have done and how starting with a conversation about that mindset (and how it changes literacy) makes the most sense for educators who might ask, “Why should I do this?”

That is the question that I hope Andrea and I can speak to in the sessions that we have coming up next.

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Comments on Teachers Teaching Teachers Disucssion of “Appropriation”

Although I wasn’t really able to join the conversation tonight through Skype, the Teachers Teaching Teachers crew asked a great question tonight:

Do our blogs have a student-sponsored life of their own? Have our blog sites moved beyond Fisher’s “new literacy practices as sugar” to allowing students to “combine their concerns and self interest with the common good?” Sometimes, and it remains a goal to make our elgg spaces — our students blogs in social networking sites — into places online where they can truly express, question, explore and research subjects that matter to them.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

One of the ideas that I wanted to take up in this conversation was that of genre. It seems to me that Paul, Susan, Teb, and the rest of the TTT crew are getting at the idea that blogging and social networking could be seen as appropriating online teen culture, as Clarence Fisher seems to be arguing here. I feel that blogging, social networking, and podcasting don’t so much appropriate teen culture as they represent new genres and, because of that, the ways that we think about teaching them in school matter a great deal as to how much, if at all, students learn how to utilize these genres.

In thinking about teaching new media genres, then, I want to share a quick example of how this is, perhaps, a very difficult concept to even wrap one’s head around, let alone teach, if you are not a part of the edublogger community. I had the good fortune of working with a class of pre-service teachers the other day, and we were talking about new literacies and technologies. One section of the article that we read discussed the five-paragraph essay as the typical model of school literacy and how technology threatens to change that genre. This caused a great deal of discontent. Suffice it to say that the pre-service teachers with whom I work came up with a question that essentially boiled down to this: if not a five-paragraph essay, then what else instead? I was taught the five-paragraph essay, I succeeded, I know that kids need to know it (or, at least that is what I believe because I haven’t seen convincing evidence to the contradict my own personal experience), and that is what I will teach them. It is a hard cycle to break.

So, how are blogging, wikiing, podcasting, and other new media writing — and the genres that they enable — different? Paul wrote extensively about what blogging can be in the TTT post, so I won’t reiterate it here. What I do want to say, however, is that I think we need to help our colleagues and those that we mentor to understand how writing on a blog or wiki, or creating a podcast, is still writing at its core (creating a text for a specific purpose and audience), but the affordances of the media and the genres that you can create with that media are very different from what we have traditionally conceived as writing. We can move beyond the five-paragraph essay because we can now talk about — and in compelling new media deliver — texts like we never have before. I don’t think we can give up the old genres, but we also have to think about how to compose with the new ones, too.

Do I want to see students’ five-paragraph essays on a blog? No. But, I think that we need to help our colleague envision what is possible in these new media. Is that appropriation? I don’t think it is. If we ask students to collaboratively write with a wiki and only one student does all the work, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre for teaching writing. Appropriation gone bad. If we ask students to post a book report to a blog and then offer feedback to others, not allowing for uses of hypertext and the natural conversations that will bubble up, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre, too. Appropriation gone bad, again.

Instead, we need to help teachers see the potentials of these new media and the genres they allow. Then we won’t need to worry about appropriating. We will need to think more about invention, discovery, and creativity, traits that we would wish on all our writers.

Justifying Digital Reading and Writing

Before the NWP Annual meeting, I had three separate conversations (one by email, one by phone, and one in person) with colleagues from the local, state, and national level about why and how to use digital reading and writing in their classrooms and for professional development. I had many more of these conversations at the NWP Annual Meeting and the ACE Workshop. What I will try to capture here is a basic outline of my response to them, and why I feel that these are critical literacy skills.

I hope to return to this post and update it, both because it is very rough right now and it will always be able to grow. Please feel free to help me out if you have ideas I should add, OK?

Frameworks

First, to conceptually frame digital reading and writing, there are a few places to begin:

Teaching tips and things to do

I know that this is not the most organized or coherent list of stuff. Also, I am thinking of turning it into a page on this site so it remains static. But, for now, I think that it is the beginning of something worth capturing and beginning to build as a more comprehensive resource about how and why we want to teach with these technologies.

Typo Generator

Now, here is a great way to kill time and generate cool graphics for your blog:

typoGenerator

Interestingly enough, the warning at the bottom of this image says “the images used for generating may be subject to copyright.”

Also interesting, as soon as I clicked away from the page, the temp image that was stored — and that I tried to blog above — disappeared. Save early, save often, I suppose…

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Blogs for Learning

Thanks to the team at MSU’s Blogs for Learning for featuring my blog under their “User Submitted Blogs” list. This looks like it can become a great resource based on what they have described here:

What is Blogs for Learning?

Welcome to Blogs for Learning, an online resource about instructional blogging. The site provides students and instructors with information and resources about the technical and pedagogical aspects of blogging in the classroom.

Blogs for Learning

Just this past week, I have had three different conversations with educators about how and why to integrate technology – especially read/write web tools – into projects that they are doing. A site like this can serve as a clearinghouse for information that teachers can use to justify blogs in their classrooms. They already have some great articles and tutorials about blogging, and I think that this will grow into a very helpful site.

One thing that is curious to me is the fact that you can’t get the RSS feed for the site off of the main page (I don’t get a chicklet in the address bar of Firefox or Flock). Rather, you have to click on their “Feeds” page and grab it from there. I would have figured it would be easier to get the feed than that.

At any rate, I hope to blog more about these conversations that I had this week – as well as submit a few of the great NWP blogs that I know about to the Blogs for Learning site – but we have to get to the cider mill and pumpkin patch before snow threatens to ruin our day. Ah, Michigan weather…

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Learning to Write by Blogging with Purpose

As we think about the types of writing we ask students to do in school, and whether or not they feel it is for a real audience and purpose, can it even come close to this?

Nick Barnowski is in multitask mode. His fingers dance around a keyboard, keeping up his end of the bargain in a back and forth two-way Instant Message conversation.

He stops momentarily, leans back in his office chair and trades glances between the flat panel monitor and his visiting afternoon appointment that sits across the desk from him.

A stack of business cards sits in a tray on the front of the desk, which takes up a portion of the home office where he spends much of his time. On the walls, his hockey-playing career is chronicled with framed team photos, sharing the same space with a larger photo of the Detroit Red Wings skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup in their possession.

Recently things have been hectic. There has been an online sports Web blog to update, television, radio and newspaper interviews to be done, e-mail correspondence to attend to, and of course, the sixth grade to complete.

That’s right. The owner of one of America Online’s most popular sports Web blogs is 12. As in four years shy of his driver’s license 12.

Lansing State Journal: Popular sports-blog writer is 6th-grader with a full schedule

The rest of the story is even more interesting, as it talks about Nicks experience as a writer and what his teacher, who subscribes to the blog, thinks about this, too. Earlier today, some ELA consultants were asking me how and why we might do workshops on blogging (and try to overcome the MySpace crisis), and I think that this is a good example of positive blogging that I will use in the future.

New Internet Writing Tools Workshop, Day One

Today, Anne and I facilitated the first day of the New Internet Writing Tools Workshop and our group has been talking about blogging and RSS. At the beginning of the day, we talked about how blogs are different from static websites and began subscribing to RSS feeds left and right. By lunch, they were pros at Bloglines and in the afternoon they each began an Edublog Word Press site. Here is a link to what everyone has begun: