The good, the bad and the ugly about education today

The Wonderful World of Wikis and Blogs


I am doing a weeklong training session for EASTCONN and the Connecticut Writing Project’s Tech Summer Institute which is affectionately known as the Tech SI.  Today’s topic is Wikis and Blogs.  Wikis are amazing online collaborative learning environments which allow teachers to create Web sites with a variety of resources, including:

  • Files (pretty much any type of file, e.g., Word, PowerPoint, Excel, JPEG, etc. – they just can’t exceed 20 MG),
  • Links to Web sites,
  • Widgets like videos, calendars, etc,
  • A space for threaded discussions.   

I’m addicted to Wikis because they allow teachers and students free and easy access to being able to post on the Internet.  My favorite site for creating Wikis is http://www.wikispaces.com.   Wikispaces provide free Wikis to educators without any ads.  To check out some free resources on using Wikis in education, go to the Wikis page on my Tech SI Wikispace at:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com/Wikis.  To start creating your own educational Wiki, go to:   http://www.wikispaces.com/site/for/teachers

Blogs (a contraction of Web logs) are online journals that are created by individuals who have something to say.  Others can read and comment on their blog posts.  There are thousands of great blogs out on the World Wide Web.  To start looking at information and resources about blogs, check out the Blogs page on my Tech SI Wiki at:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com/Blogs.

eBoards & Blogging for Educators


I’m sitting in Dave Polochanin’s Blogging and eBoards CWP/EASTCONN Saturday Seminar and we’ve been exploring eBoards and Blogs.  According to Dave, “eBoards are online message boards.  They can and probably should be moderated.”  It costs $39/year to rent an eBoard.  You can start an eBoard with a free 30-day trial by going to http://www.eboard.com/.  You can have up to 10 separate notes for each account.  I’m disappointed that it has a subscription fee attached to it since I’m used to all of the free Web 2.0 tools that are out there but I guess they need to support their server space. 

I’ve created an eBoard at:  http://techtools.eboard.com which I’m using to post links to a variety of technology tools for educations.  The “read password” is techtools.  Check it out to see whether you think this might be a useful tool for your setting.

I’ve also created a couple of Web pages on the CWP Web site with lots of blogging and eBoards resources at: 

I hope you find these helpful!

Free the Wikis


The dogs woke me up way before sunrise this morning.  They’ve both settled back down and are sound asleep but my alarm will be going off shortly so there’s no sense in trying to catch a few more winks. 

I awoke to Libby’s insistent paw with the phrase “Free the Wikis” going around in my head.  I wish I was only dreaming but everything I am going to write is true and happens in schools all over the country, not just in my quiet corner of the world.

I work in a Regional Educational Service Center as a Staff Development Specialist and spend much of my time out in the field working as a Literacy and Technology Coach in school districts in our service area.  I’ve been using Wikispaces for the last few years and have gotten addicted to them as online collaborative learning environments that support teaching and learning.  After creating online courses using such content management systems as WebCT and Blackboard, I confess that I’ve gotten addicted to how user-friendly Wikispaces are for both the space organizer and the members.

Last week while working in one of our schools I tried to post some resources on a Wiki that I’ve created to support teachers as they integrate technology across the curriculum.  Much to my shock and dismay, I discovered that Wikispaces had been blocked by the Internet filter in the district.  This was a battle that I thought we had won two years ago when we had to submit a rationale to the IT Director about why Wikispaces are so valuable for education.  At that point in time, the decision was made to unblock Wikispaces from the district’s Internet filter.  I’ve spent those two years teaching the teachers how to create their own Wikis to use with their students and a groundswell of enthusiasm and excitement has been building ever since. 

I quickly filled out a Tech Work Order and faxed it to the IT Director.  It had to be handwritten because the district does not have an online tech ticketing system nor do they have the Tech Work Order form available in electronic format so it can’t be typed and e-mailed.  I explained that we had been using Wikispaces for the past two years and that several teachers and I have created Wikis to use for teaching and learning.  I requested that the IT Director unblock *.Wikispaces.com immediately.  

At around 10:30 AM yesterday morning, five days later, one of the teachers called me in a panic saying that she was trying to access her Wikispace with her students and it was blocked.  Another teacher later in the day told me he was preparing to show his Wikispace to parents during Open House last night and it was still blocked.  I started a series of phone calls and e-mails attempting to get the attention of the IT Director so that Wikispaces would be reopened.

This district, like most others in the country, is short staffed.  During these very tight fiscal times, it’s difficult to provide enough staff to support technology integration efforts.  The IT Director is the only one in the district who can block and unblock Web sites.  If the IT Director gets hit by a truck on the way home from work, no one else in the district even has the password to the Internet filtering system.  The IT Director also makes instructional decisions about which Web sites should be blocked though this person’s only background in education is that he was a student earlier in his life.  Though I understand that the IT Director is a very busy person, my feeling is that if you have time to block Web sites, you’ve got to make time to unblock them.     

Ten years ago, I worked with my friend, Dick Barnhart, from an Educational Service District in Olympia, Washington presenting a weeklong Get Wired in Connecticut summer institute.  During this weeklong event, participants (a combination of teachers, students and even an interested Board of Education member) designed and built a working computer network and discussed the human and technology resources that are required to have an effective and efficient network. 

During that training, Dick introduced the participants to the concept of a network triangle.  Dick and his staff used this analogy whenever they interviewed IT staff.  They maintain that a network can be likened to a triangle.  A network’s three sides are:  1) access, 2) communication and 3) control.  Dick would ask during interviews:  “What shape is your network triangle?”  If the design looked like an equilateral triangle, the network would be a balance of access, communication and control.  However many IT Directors design a distorted network triangle with such a long hypotenuse that the control leg becomes a “flat line”, virtually eliminating access and communication over the network.  Though this makes it easier for the IT Director because he or she can lock everything down tight, it is not in the best interest of students and teachers.    

About a year ago, Kathy Schrock presented at our Tech Council about using Web 2.0 tools and one of my favorite parts of her presentation was when she said, “The best Internet filter is a diligent teacher”.  Kathy told our group that she is “the IT guy” in her district and that the only thing she blocks are My Space and Facebook.  The only reason she blocks them it  because the kids would spend all day updating their pages.  She added that as soon as she sees an educational value to those two social networking sites she’ll unblock them as well. 

I firmly believe in Internet safety.  I’m very aware that there are unsavory elements in our world who have Web sites that promote hate, violence and pornography.  However, I believe in teaching students responsible Internet use.  Just setting up blocks that prevent them from access prevents them from doing authentic research.  How can students  research background and history of the Ku Klux Klan while reading To Kill a Mockingbird if all hate sites are blocked?  How can a student whose mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer write a research report if “breast” is blocked as pornography?  How can students learn responsible Internet use if they can’t access Web sites?  How can students participate in collborative online learning environments if Wikis are blocked?

Let’s not be “penny wise and pound foolish”.  Wikis are free and they deserve to be available to all educators and students.  Free the Wikis and the other Web 2.0 tools!   They are the best value you can find in education today.

Unexpected Finds


As usual, when I go on the Web to do some work I find my fingers wandering and clicking on links that lead me to other links that lead me to…you know how it is.  This morning I happened upon some resources that I think you’ll find interesting and helpful.

Back to School:  15 Essential Web Tools for Students – I found Josh Catone’s post on Mashable (http://mashable.com/ , “The Social Media Guide) with great Web tools for students “From staying organized to improving study habits to making sure you reference your research sources properly”.  Teachers will find these resources valuable, too.  Check them out at:  http://mashable.com/2009/09/03/web-apps-students/

What is the future of teaching? - After following that last link, I found another Josh Catone post about online education which some believe will become “the future of teaching”.  Go to:   http://mashable.com/2009/08/31/online-education-teachers/ to see what he has to say.

Evidence-based Practices in Online Learning:  A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies - The previous link led me to a research report from the U.S. Department of Education whose authors have concluded that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction”.  With the advent of RtI (SRBI in Connecticut), and the need for schools to use research-based and evidence-based practices, this is pretty compelling evicence.  To read the full report, go to:  http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

OK, now I really have to go back to what I was supposed to be doing…

Cool Stuff from Discovery Education National Science Institute


I’ve been attending the Discovery Education National Science Institute in Silver Spring, MD for the past three days.  This was their first Science Institute and it was attended by approximately 30 educators from around the country.  I feel privileged to have been invited to participate.

I don’t have time to write much now but I’m including a link to a Share Tabs URL.  Share Tabs (http://sharetabs.com/) is a Web site that allows you to create a new URL with a list of up to 15 URLs.  This is an easy  way to share a safe list of Web sites with your students or colleagues.  When they click on the Share Tabs URL that you create and go to that Web site, they will get a Preview page that shows icons for each of the URLs you’ve included in your list.  It will also give them virtual tabs to each of those Web sites.  Share Tabs is free and you don’t even need to create a login.  Great resource for teachers!

I’ve just created a Share Tab URL to a number of Web-based resources that we explored during our time at the Discovery Education Science Institute.  They range from Web 2.0 tools like Blabberize, Glogster and Animoto to links to some of the wonderful resources that Discovery Education shares with teachers to a couple of terrific You Tube videos.  Check these resources out at:  http://sharetabs.com/?desi09

Just Delicious


I’ve just finished a 3-day mini Summer Institute with a great group of teachers from Windham Middle School in Windham, CT.  They are members of the TEAMS (Technology Experiences Assured for Middle School) grant Project Team.  This is an E2T2 (Enhancing Education Through Technology) federal grant that is administered through the CT State Department of Education.  We spent the three days focusing on several technology tools that support teaching and learning.

The first topic for Day 1 was Delicious (http://delicious.com/).  Delicious is a social bookmarking Web site, kind of like a Facebook for bookmarks.  If you’re not already using Delicious, here are seven good reasons to start:

  1. One of the beauties of Delicious is that you can save your bookmarks (AKA Favorites) on the Internet so you can access them from any computer that is connected to the Internet.  No more wondering what the address is for that Web site that you found last week.  If you’re on the Internet (and you’ve remembered to tag it), go to your Delicious account and there it will be. 
  2. Delicious lets you add tags to your bookmarks.  This allows you to cross reference Web sites that are good for multiple reasons.  No more having to bookmark a Web site more than once and storing the same Web address in several different folders in your bookmarks file.
  3. Delicious lets you bundle your bookmarks into categories.  This is similar to creating a series of subfolders under one major folder in your bookmarks file only a lot easier.
  4. If your friends are Delicious users, you can add them to your network and send them suggested Web sites as simply as you add tags.  Your suggestions (with an optional message) will appear in their Delicious inbox the next time they check their Delicious account.
  5. When you find a good Web site, if other Delicious users have also found it, you’ll see a number next to your bookmark.  By clicking on the number, you can see who else is bookmarking that site.  More importantly, you can see what else they have been bookmarking.  Look for “power users” by seeing what tags they are assigning.  It’s highly likely you’ll find other teachers who are teaching the same topics as you and you can follow their bookmarks and add them to your Delicious account.  Remember the old adage – “Many hands make light work”?  This is a virtual way of sharing our workload.
  6. You can share your bookmarks with others (regardless of whether they have a Delicious account) simply by giving them the URL (Uniform Resource Locator AKA Web address) where your bookmarks are stored.  This is a great feature for teachers who can pre-research useful Web sites for their students that are related to the topic they are teaching.  Then they can give their students the URL which will allow them to go directly to Web sites that will help them research rather than wasting lots of time doing searches that result in millions of hits. 
  7. You can choose whether to make your bookmarks public or private.  This private option is great if you’re researching a sensitive medical problem and don’t want others to know your business.  It will appear in your list of bookmarks but won’t appear if others look at your bookmarks.

Have I convinced you yet?  To date, I’ve bookmarked 528 Web sites.  In fact, I bookmarked a couple while I’ve been writing this post because I’m multi-tasking right now, checking and responding to e-mail while I’m writing.  Since I’m passionate about writing, I’ve collected 75 Web sites (sorry, it’s now 76 and it will likely change tomorrow) related to writing.  Check out my Delicious Writing bundle at http://delicious.com/jcookgough/bundle:Writing and I’ll bet that you will find at least one new site that’s of interest to you.

To start tagging your bookmarks online, just go to http://delicious.com/ and click on the Join Now button in the upper right hand corner of the screen to create your free account.  Be sure to install the buttons so they appear in your browser’s toolbar.  Then when you find a good Web site, all you need to do is click on the Tag button.  This will bring up the  ”Save a Bookmark on Delicious” dialog box.  Type in your tags and click Save and you’ll have your first virtual bookmark.

Tech SI – Day 2


We’re halfway through Day 2 of the Technology Summer Institute (AKA Tech SI) and I’m having a great time.  I’ve got an amazing group of educators that represent a variety of content areas and grade levels.  They ask good questions and keep pushing me to and beyond the limits of my knowledge.  I think this is what synergy is all about. 

The Tech SI is a collaborative weeklong Summer Institute co-sponsored by the Connecticut Writing Project (http://www.cwp.uconn.edu/) and EASTCONN (http://www.eastconn.org/).  Last year it was 3 days long and participants had to sign up for all three days.  This year it was 5 days long with a different topic focus each day.  People could sign up for one day or more days based on their interest.  An average of 9-10 people signed up for each day.  I had a group of four that signed up for all 5 days.  As the week went along, the group really bonded and helped each other.  We were all teachers and learners in a collaborative learning environment that will go virtual at the end of the week.

Check out the Tech SI Wikispace that I’ve built to support the training, to keep us connected after the training ends, and to allow the participants to share resources with their colleagues:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com/.

The Wonderful World of Wikis and Blogs


I’m prepping for training that I’m doing this week.  It’s a weeklong technology summer institute entitled Technology, Writers and Writing cosponsored by EASTCONN and the Connecticut Writing Project.  Each day focuses on a different topic related to technology tools to support teaching and learning.  Tuesday’s topic is entitled The Wonderful World of Wikis & Blogs: New Tools for Engaging Students in Reading and Writing.

I must confess that I got addicted to Wikis as soon as I saw how simple and powerful they are as online collaboration tools.  I’ve followed other people’s blogs and fairly recently begun blogging myself.  When I’m introducing teachers to the concept of blogs and wikis, I usually show them one of the Common Craft video clips.  These are so simple and make it easy to understand the concept of these collaborative online tools.  But it’s sometimes difficult to explain how blogs and wikis differ.  The explanation I usually give is that a Blog is an online journal or “news” site that you share with the public and allow them to comment on whereas a Wiki is an online Web site that you allow members to join and participate fully in.  I find Wikis to be much more flexible for educators because they provide space to post of all kinds of content like handouts, PowerPoint presentations, images, audio and video files and widgets which can be shared with students and colleagues.  Blogs don’t allow that same kind of flexibility but they still provide interesting opportunities for communication and collaboration.

Wikis
Below are some links to Wikis that may be of interest:

Check out the Wikispace that I’ve created for my Tech Summer Institute at:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com.  This is a protected Wikispace that is open to the public but I only invite teachers who come to my training sessions to join as members so that they can add their own content.  I have a page with information about and links to Blog resources at:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com/Blogs.  I have a page with information about and links to Wiki resources at:  http://techsi.wikispaces.com/Wikis.

Check out my friends’ (Donna Drasch and Rebecca Pilver) amazing Wiki for teachers and students who are interested in reading, responding to and voting on the 2010 Nutmeg Books (a Connecticut book award) at:  http://nutmeg2010.sblc.wikispaces.net/

Blogs
Below are some links to Blogs that may be of interest:

Check out Kathy Schrock’s blog at:  http://kathyschrock.net/blog/.  Kathy is a world class technology in education specialist and you can keep up with the latest in technology tools that will support teaching and learning if you follow Kathy’s blog.  If you’re not familiar with Kathy, check out her Web site at:  http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/index.html

If you’re reading this post, you’re at my blog, Teaching in the 21st Century at http://teachinginthe21stcentury.edublogs.org/.  I began this blog to explore the world of blogging and to share my experience in living as an educator in the 21st Century.

Check out my friend Ginny Bitting’s blog that she uses to have her students participate in online literature circles at:  http://folio.stonington.org/vbitting/about-me/

Cool Tools 4 Schools


I’m a full time Staff Development Specialist/Literacy & Technology Coach for EASTCONN, a regional educational service center that serves the 36 school districts in northeastern Connecticut.  I also work as the Technology Liaison for the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.   I’ve been addicted to technology for the past 30 years since I worked with an Apple II+ at Project RISE, a long dead Teacher Center in Colchester, CT.  After attending a weekend computer institute where I learned how to program in BASIC and Logo (since in those days that’s about all computers could do), I was hooked.  I also met Apple Writer, my first word processing software, which allowed me to electronically cut and paste.  What a concept!  I was sent forth to spread the word about the power of using technology tools to change teaching and learning.  I’ve been doing that ever since and I’m constantly amazed at how technology has changed not only education but the way that we live in the world.

So, I’m supposed to be checking e-mail, prepping for some training that I’m doing next week and finishing some work on a grant project but of course one link leads to another and I came across a Wikispace that is definitely worth checking out:  http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/.  This Wiki has links to an amazing array of technology tools that may just change your life.  I found it when I followed a link from a Ning created by the Ozark Writing Project (http://ozarkwp.ning.com/).  This is another site worth taking a bit of your time to peruse.  They’ve just completed a Digital Storytelling Summer Institute and they have some interesting content.  And the click goes on…

Good Reading


I just finished reading the book, Jack Tumor, with my YA Book Group.  It’s an interesting study of a teenage boy with a brain tumor that talks to him and changes his life in multiple ways.  I think some of the language and sexual references put it out of the range for middle school but I could definitely see it in a high school library.

I also just learned from some younger colleagues about a social book club Web site called Good Reads.  It’s like a Facebook for bibliophiles.  You add books that you’re reading (or have read) and write comments and rate those books.  You can “friend” others who are members of Good Reads and find out what they’re reading and what they’re thinking about what they’ve read.  You can also recommend books for your friends.  It’s similar to Shelfari, a “social network for people who love books” that one of my nephews introduced me to a year or so ago.   Membership is free for both Good Reads and Shelfari – you just create a username and password.  Login and start posting.

I think these social networking sites are great in theory.  What a wonderful opportunity to share with your friends and others.  I just haven’t figured out how to get more than 24 hours in every day.    

Check out Good Reads at:  http://www.goodreads.com/    

Check out my review of Jack Tumor and any comments that have been added at: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5026584.Jack_Tumor

Check out Shelfari at:  http://www.shelfari.com/