ICT and eLearning

Welcome to our new cohort of learners who are joining us on the ICT and eLearning blended learning course from 17th March until the 19th May 2014.

A Wordle created from pasting the URL of this blog!

My own wordle based on this blog.

During our induction we will discuss the underpinning pedagogy behind this course based on situative, active and reflective learning and you will have the opportunity to tell us which tools and technologies you wish to explore during your journey. All the learning content is in our ICT and eLearning hub in Moodle.  

All our blog posts will be listed to the right of this blog. Please make sure you read each other’s blogs and try to comment. We are a community of practice (CoP) and by sharing ideas, queries, and our exploratory reflections we can learn a lot from each other.

We will be using Yammer (the social enterprise network) as our communications hub to post news and announcements.

Join Twitter as soon as you can and use our unique hashtag to share resources or news. You can follow us at @Beth_A_Snowden and @geordie_online.

Here are some dates for your diary so you have a clear idea of when you need to write your own posts.

Blog Posts

  1. 17-03-14  – First Post during Induction
  2. 24-03-14  – Blogs, Cops, Reflective Cycles
  3. 07-04-14  – What is Web 2.0?
  4. 21-04-14 – Web 2.0 for Learning and Teaching
  5. 05-05-14 – Pedagogy – Gathering Speed
  6. 12-05-14 – Web 2.0 Potholes

Google+ Hangouts from 8pm

  • Hangout 1: 31-03-14
  • Hangout 2: 12-05-14

I will be exploring Nearpod (a collaborative learning solution) which could also be used for Flipped Learning so I will keep you posted about my own adventures. See if you can find my case study on their site?  Now I have signed up (coerced) 5 other members I am a Gold Member so I am very excited to use this on our TAP Day – Building for Success in Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

Online Tools4Learning

Online Tools4Learning

I have already written a wiki on various tools and technologies that I have explored which you can view at: http://bit.ly/onlinetools4learning  This failed as a “collaborative” space (the essence of a wiki) as there were only a few other contributions from colleagues but nevertheless it helped me to analyse some of the pedagogical and practical affordances of these tools so it has been a useful exercise. If anyone does wish to add their own reflections or critical analysis of any tools they come across I would be delighted to add them.

We hope you enjoy your journey with us and share your experiences, challenges and insights to innovative ways of working, learning and teaching.

To see how communities of practice can be developed and nurtured with learners you can hear a presentation I delivered with my colleague @micholtean at Kirkless College http://bit.ly/NewWays_CoPs 

Let’s explore and remember…

Pacansky-Brock quote

Just signed up with http://quozio.com/ to create this graphic above. It was a doddle. Just sign up, paste in your quote and choose your style. I wish I had known this when I was developing my moodle sites!

Pacansky-Brock, M. (2013) Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Routledge.

Stepping into Web 2.0: Blogging as a Rite of Passage for Educators

So here it is. The culmination of many a day’s hard graft. I have now completed designing the six week blended learning programme Stepping into Web 2.0: Blogging as a Rite of Passage for Educators which I am piloting with colleagues. Although, for practical reasons, the content has been created in Moodle, our VLE, all the action will take place online using Web 2.0 tools and practices. Participants will be reflecting on their journey via their blogs which can be found under the Communities of Practice link to the right of this blog (Monday 18th March). If there are any readers out there that have stumbled across this blog post and value the practice of blogging to support PDP, learning, teaching and assessment then if you have a moment please do read some of these new blog posts and add your comments. Your support may really motivate these educators who are new to blogging.

Below is the outline of my research proposal I had to present to my tutor at Huddersfield University which may help put my reasons and motivations for creating this programme into context.

Here is the short introduction for Stepping into Web 2.0 which you will find in Moodle.

Stepping into Web 2.0

“There is no better way to understand the impact of the Read/Write Web than becoming a part of it” (Richardson, 2010, p.38).

Image subject to copyright Presenter Media

Stepping into Web 2.0

Social media transforms teaching from static delivery of content to an ever-changing practice. The only way to learn this is through experience. Participating with emerging technologies outside your classroom is the best way to see the array of possibilities they hold” (Pacansky-Brock, 2013, p.46).

Welcome to this blended learning programme enabling you to step into the world of Web 2.0 by adopting and experimenting with tools and practices which focus on participation, collaboration, content-creation, reflection and collective knowledge. You will be writing a blog during your journey enabling you to reflect on your experience and share your knowledge with your peers thereby creating a supportive network and community of practice. You will understand the relevance of these technologies and practices and learn how they are being applied in a wide range of learning and teaching contexts. The underpinning pedagogical principles associated with this programme is based on situative, authentic, problem-based learning within the context of a social constructivist framework and a community of practice.

You  may ask yourself why it is necessary to keep up your knowledge and skills in relation to social media technologies and practices? Is it true that the bottom line is “effective teaching requires effective technology use?” (Ertmer, 2010, p.256).

Watch these two YouTube video clips for an insight into what other educators may think.

These are just two examples of resources created by educators to promote debate and perhaps controversy. Do we really need an alternative DNA pedagogy? How do you see yourself in relation to your confidence with Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)? Are you a Woody, Buzz Lightyear or Rex? (Techstory, 2010, p.8).

There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss such questions throughout your journey so fasten your seat belts and let us get on the road – to e-tivity and Beyond!  Most of our discussions will take place on our public blogs however, if you have any queries related to your journey or you have a technical question then please communicate via our Yammer Group. This is our walled garden where our conversations remain private.

Twitter feeds for this group will be #stepweb2

References

  • Ertmer, P. A., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010) Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 42, No. 3, pp.255-284
  •  Pacansky-Brock, M., (2012) Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Routledge Taylor and Francis. New York
  •  Richardson, W., (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. U.S.A: Corwin.

All images are attributed to their original author(s). Any images not sourced are copyright from PresenterMedia ©

X-Factor Pedagogies Versus Anarchogogy

Something has been troubling me of late.

However…

after listening to Peter Shukie’s (@ShukieOne) keynote today on Pop, Folk and Punk, at the JISC RSC HE eLearning Conference 2013 I think I may have hit the nail on the head as to why. After all my extensive research into the plethora of learning theories, frameworks, and pedagogic models out there I think I am quite overwhelmed and I wonder to myself, how can these pedagogies help educators at the coal face, struggling with the practical demands of engaging learners; and maintaining retention, achievement, and assessment rates that formal education values so highly? So many to choose from, all enticing with eat me, drink me written on the label. Like Alice in Wonderland we try what we think might be the best option to unlock the potential of what is on the other side of the door and like Alice we often make mistakes and have to try another remedy.

Alice

So back to my troubles.

Is there a pedagogic remedy that really works and which one do I choose? Do I focus my efforts on building pedagogic practices on the foundations of connectivism, constructionism, rhizomatic learning, social constructivism, self-organised learning, reflective learning, problem-based learning, etc and which model should I choose; Communities of Practice, Salmon’s 5 Stage Model, Bloom’s Taxonomy (revisited), the Flipped Classroom pedagogy, the Contributing Learner Model, the MOOC Model, the Digital Practitioner Framework (Bennett, 2012)?

Education is agog with x-gogies.

And then Mr Shukie comes along today, a self-confessed idealist, and talks about anarchogogy and yin and yang and I think he may have the answer. To put this into context his presentation set out to explore “Punk, Folk and Pop as concepts from which educators can make choices based on their own ideological and philosophical preferences,” (Shukie, 2013).This struck a chord with me (excuse the pun). He uses the analogy of the homogenisation of music which is regurgitated in the T.V show, the X-Factor, and warns of a “similar peril” for eduction in the form of a “boiled down, grey pedagogy draped in the rhetoric of functional skills and consumerist ideology“.

We cannot pick a pedagogy off the shelf and expect it to work because it looks like a quick fix or others tell us it is a bargain so we should try it. No, we are all indviduals with different experiences, values, belief systems. Each lesson we ever teach to any group of learners will always be unique. Therefore we have to use a mishmash of different pedagogies, experiment with them, challenge them, ask our learners what they think about them and accept that if they fail we reflect on why and simply move on having learning from this experience. I know this sounds like the cliche “one size doesn’t fit all” argument but it is more than that. To quote Shukie directly, he wants to “encourage the inclusion of ourselves, our philosophies and ideologies and the diversity of our practices as ways to shape (sic)  the environment in which we teach and learn“. I found this resonates with my own understanding of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). We are who we are because of our own personal experiences which shape our belief systems and values which in turn inform our choices. Whether we have a dystopian or utopian view of technology, or straddle the fence, will depend on who we are and what we have experienced in life. I think our attitudes towards change, with our without technology, depends on the recipes we have used in life.

I particularly liked Shukie’s concept of Edu-punk and anarchogogy which “operates in a non-hierarchical, user generated, open environment” but perhaps this is because I have been exploring the kind of chaotic and nomadic style of rhizomatic learning which, in its nature, is quite MOOCish. A free, online course with 30,000 enrolled participants is going to be chaotic. I am definitely a nomad on a journey except I am not making good sense of the compass and map provided so I am carving my own path. Yes, I like Edu-punk.

Another note that chimed well with my present thinking was Shukie’s metaphor of Yin and Yang which reminded of the holistic approach to education that many of us aspire to.

Ying Yang

The Yin was a nod in the direction of collaborative, participatory learning whilst the Yang was a metaphor for the locus of control being held by the institution and the curriculum. This reminded me of Collis and Moonen’s adaption of Sfard’s metaphors of learning as acquisition (yang) and participation (yin). I suggest, at least at this early stage in 21st century learning, that we need to assimilate both into our teaching.

Two metaphors of Learning

So the enlightenment for me today is that it is OK to question existing pedagogies for teaching and learning. As individuals we can adopt a mishmash of different gogies and experiment with them to find out what works best for our learners within our particular context. X-Factor pedagogies need to be challenged.

However, there is something in common with whichever approach we take, one rhythmic beat which we all tap our foot to; whether Pop, Punk, Folk, or a heady combination of them all. As educators and practitioners we still need to reflect, for if we don’t reflect on our teaching and learning experiences how can we know what is working well and what isn’t? Reflection enables us to dig deeper, to prod, probe, and scrutinize and then adapt to the situation at hand as our first impressions of any pedagogic model may not be right for our particular context.

On my return home today my little boy showed me a trick and it seemed to sum up a day full of curiousity and intrigue. All is not what it seems.

I’ll take a recipe of moocishness with a good dose or participatory, active and reflective learning with just a spoonful of anarchogogy for added zestiness.

Reference

Bennett, E.J. (2012) Learning from the early adopters: Web 2.0 tools, pedagogic
practices and the development of the digital practitioner (n.p)

Shukie, P. (2013) – Pop, Folk and Punk – how technology defines approaches to learning, teaching and life. Paper presented at the 2013 E-Learning in HE Conference.

Metaphors for the Future?

I picked up a new word today. I like words. If I don’t know a word I need to look it up. I think that is why I have enjoyed reading Johnston’s (2009) article on “Salvation or Destruction: Metaphors of the Internet”.

This article helps put last week’s metaphors, to describe the future of technology as either dystopian or utopian, into context. Is the internet a “revolution” for the good of humanity or is social media turning us into “enslaved” cyborgs? We use metaphors to compare new things and ideas to something we already know therefore making it easier to understand. That is why the internet is called the “web” or the “information highway”. A metaphor I use often is “harvesting” – the harvesting of collective knowledge which we can reap so easily through our online connections. Isn’t that about food again? Better not mention the tasty smorgasbord of Web 2.0 tidbits.

So what is the new word? Commodification! This offers a dystopian view of the web and it reminded me instantly of a story I read a few years ago in which Lady Gaga and her vast army of marketing strategists were employing young teenagers to post interesting stories about the celebrity on their Facebook wall and twitter feeds. I found this distasteful in its manipulation but if these little marketeers were getting their freebies and it isn’t illegal then why should I be concerned? In fact aren’t we all commodities ourselves? The amount of data that companies and organisations collect about us, purely from our browsing habits, is quite shocking if we take time to really ponder over it. Perhaps the Facebook generation won’t feel this invasion of privacy so keenly as we do. They will be used to having all their information stored on one central database although I don’t believe the repercussions will be as chilling as this video Sight would have us believe.

I am not swayed by any of the videos I have seen for this week’s MOOCs. I find them all rather unappetising. I do not watch many films of the future because they often contain so much violence. Why is that? With all the developments in the world why are there so many books and movies portraying a more violent dystopian view of society. Perhaps they make better entertainment!

In relation to A Day Made of Glass 2 I cannot wait to show this to my 7 year old. He was intrigued by Bendito Machine 3 and uttered the words “worship” and “technology” in one sentence so he kind of hit the nail on the head. However, I think he will find A Day Made of Glass 2 amazing. He only has a Wii (no Xbox, PSP, DS, Kinnect, mobile, Ipad) and perhaps that explains why I found this vision of the future rather alarming. Everything squeaky clean, sterile and lifeless. Everyone connected to their personal devices to find out what to do next, where to go next, what to eat next, what to say next, what to experience next in Augmented Reality simulations. What about the here and now – living for the moment, experiencing friends and family and connecting in real-time?

A few other things I noted in A Day Made of Glass. Firstly, it is strange that all the kids are still going to school in the first place and secondly the teacher is at the front of the class and the kids are all sitting in rows watching in awe. Is this student-centred learning? I grant there were moments where the learners were working collaboratively but this scenario struck me as at odds with a utopian vision of education for the future. Same set up, just more gadgets. Perhaps all the research I have been doing today on flipped learning and the crisis that Higher Education could be in because of the MOOC movement (Carr, 2009) has skewed my thinking for today. Secondly, is this technology really so far into the future? It all worked much more elegantly and obviously gesture based technological communications were more enhanced but don’t we have some of these things already? Perhaps this video was showing a vision of equal access for all – a “democratisation” of technology.

I doubt it!

But that would be my vision.

A future where children from all over the world would have the same access to technology and poorer countries wouldn’t have to beg for defunct second hand computers just so their disadvantaged children could learn the basics of reading and writing (Computers4Africa).

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

We have a long way to go. Even here in the UK, 8.12 million adults have never accessed the internet.

So what is my answer to Johnston’s question?

What other metaphors better convey the future and potential of the Internet?

It has to be Democratisation and Equity.

References

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2370/2158

MOOCs and CoPs – A Tale of Two Courses

Copyright: PresenterMedia

Copyright: PresenterMedia 2013

Resurrection indeed?My blog post from May 2012 suggested that there was a danger in resurrecting this blog because I might get “sucked into the blogging vortex….unable to detach myself from the Web 2.0 shackles”. Evidently no such dangers lurked. I have only written 4 posts since then! This blog is like the resurrection plant (honestly, it does exist because I saw it on David Attenborough’s Africa).  It dries up and dies and then with a few drops of rain the dormant seeds are sown and up it pops again, alive and vibrant and striving towards the sun.

So the rain has arrived and the the call to blog has come knocking at my door.  It is morphing into something else. From dialogue to monologue in one fell swoop. This is because I have the need to reflect on a lot that is going on this month.

I suggest the next few posts will be my spontaneous and rather haphazard reflections of two very different learning experiences I am participating in. I am intrigued to be enrolled on my first free Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) in eLearning and Digital Cultures (along with 35,000 others) and it has already got me thinking about the Faustian bargain we make with technology as I consider the perceived dystopian and utopian landscape it creates.

All technology is a Faustian bargain…since media trade-offs are by
definition cultural trade-offs…In other words, if all technologies are
attempts to solve problems or to make lives easier, then it is essential to
recognise that these attempts will also bring about problems of their own
,”
(Gencarelli, 2000, p.98).

It is strange that on the same day I watch this thought-provoking clip on Bendito Machine 3 which surely illuminates a dystopian view of the human adoration and obsession with technology I find myself attending the Learning Technologies Exhibition 2013 which sells me the utopian vision that technological evangelists and innovators would have us believe is there for the taking – with a price I add! What a paradox I find myself in.

But then again I have always sat on the fence in relation to the benefits and impact technology has on society and culture – which is peculiar for someone in my line of work. Of course, I believe technological innovation and development is necessary. It makes life easier, more fun, more engaging, more worthwhile, less arduous and of course it saves lives. No-one wishes to turn back the clock on research and developments in medicine. Yet, some people would undoubtedly welcome a slower pace of change when it comes to everyday technology that affects the lives of our younger people. The controversy over the Facebook generation tethered to their networks and hooked on their games incapable of what is considered normal, face to face, social interaction with others is highlighted in Turkle’s article The Flight from Conversation (2012). There is so much more I can add to this debate. I won’t even mention Professor Susan Greenfield’s take on social media for what some critics denounce as “berating our culture for sleepwalking into an Internet-fuelled social apocalypse” (Steele, 2009). However, a more light-hearted conversation can be found here, between Nicholas Carr who wrote The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains (2010) and Stephen Fry (who as you know is a devotee of technology).

I have also started to wet my feet in the waters of another onlince course with the Social Learning Centre.  My interest in this course stems from my own research on the CoP model of learning proposed by Etienne Wenger (1998) and the notion of Siemen’s and connectivism highlighted by Siemens and Downes. I am paying a small fee for this online course (lasting about as long as the MOOC) but I believe the participants are nearer to 40. I am really looking forward to learning about how to nurture a community of practice as I am hoping to launch my own next month. I have entitled this Stepping into Web 2.0: A Rite of Passage for Educators in which participants will blog as part of a community of practice in which they reflect and hopefully revisit how they learn (improved metacogntion).

How interesting therefore? A tale of two courses, side by side, my fingers in both pies, one perhaps smaller, sweeter and home-made, the other a fusion of different ingredients, baked for the masses. And I get to taste both. More metaphors about food. I must stop it. Although I still like my idea of the Tapas Menu offering a smorgasbord of Web 2.0 tidbits!

It is not my intention to compare these two courses because they are too different . However my blog posts will no doubt dig deep into my engagement and interaction with them. The concept of Rhizomatic Learning within the MOOC is something I wish to explore and this self-managed learning, wearing a nomadic hat, will be both chaotic and challenging.  So these ramblings will hopefully act as an aide memoir and may also help contribute to the assessments I have to do for both (yikes).

A post script about today’s Learning Technologies conference which deserves more than the cursory comment I made above. I observed a similar golden thread running through some of the seminars I was able to hear snippets of which made me hopeful for 2013. There were quite a few discussions about learning and development practices being less about content and tick boxes and more about people. At last! Once we take a holistic view about learning and development and allow learners to contribute to their own learning and the learning of others we are one step closer to success.

References:

Downes, S., (2012) Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: Essays on Meaning  and Learning Networks [online] Available at: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf [Accessed 1  February 2013]

Cormier, D., (2011) Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach? [online] Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/11/05/rhizomatic-learning-why-learn/ [Accessed 1 February 2013]

Gencarelli, T.F., (2009) The intellectual roots of media ecology in the work and
thought of Neil Postman. New Jersey Journal of Communication Vol. 8, No.
1, pp.91-103

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press

Infographics and Moving ZPD

I am feeling quite overwhelmed at the moment. Perhaps it is looking at this infographic (posted on 30th August 2011) depicting the growth of social media which is both interesting but unsettling. I was wanting to find some reliable statistics highlighting the growth of social media and web 2.0 technologies for my research and I came across this from the Search Engine Journal Website.

The Growth of Social Media: An Infographic
Source: The Growth of Social Media: An Infographic

The statistics are already out of date because I am aware that Facebook now has over 1 billion users  which led me to examine why I was searching for this data in the first place. What do these statistics give me? A compelling argument to persuade educators that we really do live in a digital age? Perhaps, but I guess not. Rather this may appear to be a quagmire of baffling technologies that serve no purpose to many who have no inclination to “connect” to the rest of the world.

We really are on the cusp of great change. There is no turning back the tide as our lives are increasingly being lived online. I do feel that I am sometimes being sucked into the Web 2.0 vortex and feel under pressure to make further connections, explorations and discoveries.

I can relate to Siemens notion of Connectivism and do consider the pipe to be more important than the information that flows through it but where does it end, is there an end? How much surfing, connecting, posting, mashing, bookmarking, tweeting do I have to do before I feel settled that I have the information I need? Knowledge is limitless and perhaps that is where my frustration lies – never feeling satisfied. Collective knowledge is undoubtedly great but will I ever reach that nirvana of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development? It seems to me the more I extend outwards the further the goal posts move and this leaves me feeling a bit deprived. My tutor once told me I had epistemic curiousity – is that why I am writing this blog to try and fathom out what is most important?

http://ictlogy.net/20120831-personal-learning-environments-and-the-revolution-of-vygotskys-zone-of-proximal-development/

Source: Ismael Peña-López at http://ictlogy.net/20120831-personal-learning-environments-and-the-revolution-of-vygotskys-zone-of-proximal-development/

Amongst the myriad of different technologies (all of which I want to try) how can we find the right tool for the job? There is a lot of exploration and experimenting to be done and that takes time. I need to make a decision on delivering a short presentation soon and I have tentatively thought about using;

….all of which are runners but where do I place my bets?

Perhaps I should connect to my various nodes to get more insights?

Alternatively, maybe I could sit here quietly, on my own, pen and paper in hand, and through a careful process of examination and elimination, look again at the odds and place my bet on gut instinct and experience, thereby getting the job done swiftly…

….although now I have no time because after all my trawling and being side tracked by infographics and great blog posts I still need to find Ismael Peña-López on Twitter as a More Knowledgable Other (MKO).

Therein lies the dilemma of Personal Learning Environments.

Blogging in the Edusphere: A Beginner’s Guide

blogging


What is a blog?
Who are the bloggers and why do they blog?
Blogging for Educational Purposes
The Educational Blogosphere
Tips for writing a successful blog in education
How do I get started with blogging?

It has been some time since I touched based with my blog and I have missed it.  I had planned to write a post on the complexities of pedagogy but I need to unravel that one when I have more time and patience. Since I am developing a blended learning programme on Web 2.0 technologies I started to think about how I should introduce blogging to those educators who are unfamiliar with the practice, so after a bit more digging around I have compiled this beginner’s guide which may be of use to the uninitiated. The content is not very “blog friendly” and breaks all the rules of a blog post in that it is too long, too formal and not punctuated with multimedia. This is because it has been written for a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and therefore  will be divided into more manageable bite-sized chunks making it more accessible. However, having it here, all in one place, will enable me to find things more quickly when I need to reference material and isn’t this one of the advantages of a blog?

So below is my harvest after a few days toil.

What is a blog?

A blog is an online space in which an author can easily publish content to the web. The word originated from the term “weblog” which, as the name suggests, means a journal entry and this is generally how blogs started their life, as self-publications of personal musings. They are now, however, far more varied in purpose and design. This short video clip by Common Craft sets out to explain the concept of a blog in very general terms.

In a blog a series of posts are written and appear in reverse chronological order with the most recent post appearing at the top of the blog. One of the advantages of creating a blog is the ease with which multimedia content such as videos and images can be incorporated. The inclusion of hyperlinks to other relevant complementary resources can flesh out a blog and make it more interactive and engaging to the reader. The driving force behind an author writing a blog is perhaps the fact that it is in the public domain, although some blogs can be set to private or a limited number of authorised readers.  A blog gives a reader a “voice” to share thoughts and opinions to a wider audience. What makes blogging a collaborative, participatory Web 2.0 practice is the ability for readers to comment on the posts and share their own thoughts and ideas. Blogs therefore constitute a new and “unique communication genre” (Silva et al. p.56) which offers the author an opportunity to reflect, showcase, advertise and communicate news and ideas whilst readers are invited to participate and join in the conversation. Readers may become followers of blogs and can subscribe to them via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) so that new posts are automatically flagged up. This interchange between an author and his/her readers connects them in a “hyper structure known as the blogosphere” (Fessakis et al, 2008, p.199). This situates blogs within the context of the “expressive internet” that Tufecki (2008) defines as one of the hallmarks of the Read/Write Web making it more personal, social and collaborative.

“Blogs engage readers with ideas and questions and links. They ask readers to think and to respond. They demand interaction” (Richardson, 2010, p.18).

The surge in self-publishing on the internet is largely due to the socio-cultural climate in which technological advancements have facilitated the opportunities for people to express themselves and socialise through this new media ecology. Watch Wesch’s interesting lecture on How the Machine is Changing Us for more on this subject. Another reason why blogging has become so popular is simply that it is so easy to set up and maintain. Popular sites like wordpress, blogger,  tumblr and edublogs allow users to register and start writing their blogs easily and quickly. The majority of blogs are free to set up although for education and business there may be service agreement costs depending on the level of support and enterprise required.   So who are all these bloggers and what is their motivation behind their practice?

License: Some rights reserved by alamodestuff from Flickr Creative Commons

Attribution: Some rights reserved by alamodestuff


Back to the top

Who are the bloggers and why do they blog?

Technorati is a useful website which monitors the state of the blogosphere and has been collating statistical data since 2004. The number of blogs have been rising significantly since then which is testimony to their appeal. Approximate figures suggest that there were only 4 million blogs in 2004 rising to 181 million for 2011.

Technorati divides bloggers into several categories: the hobbyist, professional full-timer, professional part-timer, corporate blogger and entrepreneur.  The so-called hobbyists contribute over 60% of all blogs in the blogosphere.

The backbone of the blogosphere, representing over 60% of all bloggers are “hobbyists” who “blog for fun” whilst expressing their “personal musings”. 60% indicate they spend less than three hours a week blogging, yet half of hobbyists spend time to respond individually to comments from readers. The main reason 72% of hobbyists blog is to “speak their minds” and their main success metric is personal satisfaction (61%).

Technorati’s sample survey of active bloggers provides some quantitative data on why people blog and how they measure the success of the blogs. Listed below are just the top 6 responses.

Why do you blog?

  • To share my experience and expertise with others
  • In order to speak my mind on areas of interest
  • To become more involved with my passion areas
  • To meet and connect with like-minded people
  • To gain professional recognition
  • To advance my career

How do you measure the success of your blog?

  • Personal satisfaction
  • Number of unique visitors
  • Number of posts or comments on my blog
  • Number of people who are sharing my content on social media sites
  • Number of links to my blogs on other sites
  • Number of RSS subscribers

Source: http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-part2/ (this website is no longer available)

This data suggests we are increasingly changing the way we produce and consume information online. Web 2.0 tools and practices pivot on the dynamics of co-creation and redistribution of knowledge. People want to share, they want to express themselves and they want to connect with others and be rewarded with feedback as “the thirst for making connections, for communication, is insatiable and that is why hundreds of new communities form every day” (Preece, 2010).

Edublogs is a service dedicated to students and educators who are blogging for teaching, learning, and professional purposes. Exploring blogging through a theoretical lens we can ascertain that it promotes authentic, situative and collaborative learning which supports social constructivist and constructionist pedagogical principles. Blogging can also promote communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and extend personal learning networks. New theories of collective intelligence and connectivism (Siemens & Downes, 2005) give credence to online practices like blogging. So why are educational practitioners and so many learners immersing themselves in the blogosphere?

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Blogging for Educational Purposes

It is generally acknowledged that there has been paradigm shift from teacher-centred learning to student centred learning based on the social constructivist theories espoused by Vygotsky.  McLoughlin stresses the need for educators to expand their pedagogical vision “so that learners are active participants or co-producers rather than passive consumers of content, so that learning is a participatory, social process supporting personal life goals and needs” (McLoughlin, 2007, p.664). The practice of blogging can facilitate self-directed learning, increase metacognitive awareness through critical reflection (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011) and support the construction of knowledge through collaboration amongst peers. Both educators and learners can benefit from this.

Downes highlights the fact that blogging gives “students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work. Having such an audience can result in feedback and greatly increase student motivation to do their best work. Students also have each other as their potential audience, enabling each of them to take on a leadership role at different times through the course of their learning” (Downes, 2011, p78).

Blogs can be both monologues (having a conversation with self) reinforcing theoretical perspectives on reflective, problem-based, situative learning or blogs can be dialogues (conversation with others) in which communities of practice develop, (O’Donnell, 2006; Yan, 2009).

Will Richardson’s book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010) advocates the use of blogs, as “the most widely adopted tool of the Read/Write Web so far,”(p.10) and goes on to list some practical recommendations. I have modified this list substantially to summarise the main points and have included some of my own ideas.

Teacher Blogs – Reflective / Journal / Community of Practice

  • keep a log of successful lessons and practices
  • explore pedagogical issues whilst experimenting with different methodologies
  • critically reflect on teaching practices and experiences
  • plan strategies for future lessons
  • share teaching ideas
  • ask followers for advice, recommendations, research material, lesson ideas
  • reflect on observations of other teachers’ practice and lessons learned (vicarious learning)

Class Blogs

  • post information on news and events, homework, assignments
  • publish students’ work to showcase good practice
  • communicate with parents on a daily/ weekly basis to let them know about the learning topics
  • post photos and videos of classroom activities
  • incorporate multimedia exploring other Web 2.0 technologies to make the site more interactive and engaging for example embedding voice-thread, podcasts or creative art
  • provide links and resources to support assignments and homework
  • request learners to  harvest useful resources on a given topic and share them on the blog
  • post prompts for further reading and research
  • build a class newsletter incorporating all student content
  • link your class with another class in the world for cultural exchange
  • encourage learners (and parents) to use the comments feature to give feedback on classroom activities

Individual Student blogs enable students to

  • step into the world of Web 2.0 safely and securely under the advice and support of the teacher providing opportunities to discuss digital identity
  • express themselves and showcase their work (art, poetry, photography, creative writings)
  • personalise learning through the look and feel of their blog which they have ownership of
  • improve literacy skills
  • evidence group or individual project work as portfolios for assessment
  • collate relevant resources pertinent to a topic and discuss the significance of each whilst promoting digital literacy
  • self-reflect on learning experiences or classroom activities
  • develop self-directed, autonomous learning improving study skills and life-long learning skills
  • learn how to interact with others respectfully and respond to comments appropriately
  • explore the interactivity and collaborative nature of Web 2.0 and the sociality it engenders
  • extend the confines of the classroom, learning takes place flexibly meeting the needs of the learner.

Collis and Moonen stresses the importance of the “contributing student” pedagogy by emphasising the difference between an acquisition model of learning in which a learner comes to possess new knowledge and a participatory model of learning when learning is integrated into the learner’s world (Collis & Moonen, 2006).  Blogging ticks all the boxes for active, authentic, problem-based learning.

These are just some of the activities that you could pursue by employing blogs for teaching and learning. Watch this short YouTube clip on Blogging with students: How and Why before exploring some of the blogs listed below.

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You might also want to read Blogging in the Classroom: Why your students should write online and also a Reflection on the benefits of Classroom Blogging by primary school teacher who has been blogging since 2008.

So now we have established what blogs are, who the bloggers are and what blogs could be used for in education let us find a sample of blogs that could be of interest to you.

The Educational Blogosphere

It seems unfair to pick out just a few blogs when there are millions out there in the blogosphere. No exact figures can be traced for the number of blogs in existence but Tumblr states it has 193 million blogs (as of 3rd July 2014) and WordPress has its own statistical analysis which you can track for up to date figures. However, I have selected a handful which will hopefully demonstrate their wide and varied use in education for both learners and educators..  However, I have selected a handful which will hopefully demonstrate their wide and varied use in education for both learners and educators.

  1. First off, here is Neverseconds, a blog that started off innocently enough by a primary school student, Martha Payne as part of a school project which focussed on her school meals. Within a few months it reached international acclaim and secured hundreds and thousands of pounds for charity enriching many people’s lives. The power of the web! Listen to Martha’s story to find out why.
  2. This case study from JISC RSC includes a video explaining how a Geology Tutor set up a class blog to promote further enquiry and research amongst her learners. One student took up the mantle and even though she has since moved on to university continues to use her blog for reflection, analysis and synthesis of her own learning. See What I learnt in Geography this week.
  3. TeachNorthern’s blog post on criticality deserves a mention for three reasons. Firstly, it highlights the way in which, by penning her post with such an enquiring mind, the author is unravelling her ideas and thoughts in search of answers. She is undoubtedly on a journey. Secondly it characterises the nature of many blogs that wend their merry way from being both a conversation with self (monologue) and conversation with others (dialogue) and this is evident with the linguistic shift from the personal pronoun “I” to phrases like “you get the picture”. Thirdly, this post is personal and readable. It is informative, yet it is also a narrative in which you can clearly hear the author’s own voice. This is one of the joys of writing a blog, with “honesty, integrity and meaningfulness” (Downes, 2011, p.72) which is apparent when  she reflects on her reaction to a problem, “I had an emotional response to it which combined denial, connection, fear, recognition, anger…a whole bag of feelings, but I still don’t know what I think. Sometimes, finding out what you think takes time. And that – really – is OK too” (Technorthern, 2012). I agree!
  4. http://cathywint.posterous.com/a-video-tastic-lesson .This is a different type of blog altogether because it is evidently written for reflective practice and Continuing Professional Development although it is nevertheless described as a “personal space” by the author. Other ESOL teachers would no doubt learn a lot from all the various classroom activities she is willing to share.
  5. Learning with e’s is updated regularly and has many followers who are interested in emerging technologies for learning and teaching. Steve Wheeler is a thinker who likes to share his ideas, thoughts and feelings on education. See his pertinent blogpost on 7 Reasons why teachers should blog . Note that his blog posts are listed under the Creative Commons licence so “sharing” knowledge and experience is important to this author.
  6. Dave Foord’s site is another wordpress blog http://davefoord.wordpress.com/ which focusses on technology for learning and teaching. He is a consultant who uses the blog to share his experience and to reflect on his own practice. He has been blogging consistently since 2007.
  7. Edublogs has over 1 million sites blogs dedicated to teaching and learning. This blog entitled Integrating Technology into the Primary Classroom has almost everything you need to know about introducing blogs into the classroom and has won accolades from edublogs hall of fame. Kathleen Morris is a primary school teacher in Australia and has a wealth of experience in using blogs with learners.
  8. Metafilter, described as a “community weblog” is a different kind of blog altogether and is worth a mention because it is a unique community in which members share a variety of interests, news and ideas. A $5 fee is charged for membership and there are specific guidelines ensuring members contribute with respect and courtesy to others whilst at the same time promoting constructive controversy and active debate.

For more of the best blogs in education (from the principal to the primary school student visit the Edublog award site at: http://edublogawards.com/).

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Tips for writing a successful blog in education

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lapideo/198046070/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Attribution: Some rights reserved by lapideo Flickr Creative Commons

There is plenty of advice out there in the blogosphere on how to write a good blog post but context is key. Much of the advice focusses on how to entice, engage and maintain a reliable following of readers but this is not our main interest. See Downe’s critique of a journalist blogger’s tips for successful blogging which he dismisses, “the point of a blog isn’t to gather a loyal cadre of readers around you dutifully writing comments” (Downes, 2011, p.73).  This type of “vanity publishing” (O’Donnell, 2006, p.6)  and narcissistic pride is certainly evident in many professional blogs and is the motivation behind many blogger’s activities but it is of less importance for the learner or teacher trying to improve learning outcomes. However, it should be acknowledged that writing in the public domain can be a powerful incentive, “this public context encourages a unique calibre of thoughtfulness that does not typically happen in private journals” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011, p.110) and as such can be skilfully harnessed by teachers to motivate learners.

If you are writing a class blog for learners (and parents) this will be significantly different in substance and style than if you were writing on a more personal level to develop skills in self-reflection. However, since we are concentrating on blogs as both channels for reflection and communities of practice we will focus on a few characteristics. Let us remember one of the main benefits of blogging:

Part of the freedom of blogging is its immediacy and its flexibility: it is a space where anything from brief notes, first thoughts and links, to more worked-up essay style postings can live together. However, deeper dimensions are discovered if the blogger actively mines this archive gradually shaping it through addition and juxtaposition” (O’Donnell, 2006, p.9).

If you are writing for critical reflection then lay down the foundations by following one of the various reflective cycle models  such as Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984), Gibb’s Reflective Cycle (1998) or Schon’s Reflection Model (1983). Remember to be analytical not just descriptive. Your “blogging voice” will develop over time and will improve once you start to read and follow other blogs. These are my own personal tips on blogging based on experience and some extensive reading around the subject. However, you will undoubtedly find your own strategies for successful blogging. These tips are simply a starting point if you are stepping into the edusphere for the first time.

  1. Have a clear purpose and focus for your blog or you will struggle finding your voice. What do you want to gain by undertaking the practice and how best can you achieve this?“Students need to identify and define a focus for their blog, establish goals and objectives for how and when they will contribute to their blog; identify, find, use and critique content and ideas to include in the blog; appropriately share content and ideas to an audience via their blog; and critique the effectiveness of their blog posts to meet their goals and objectives for their blog and the needs of their audience” (Dunlap, 20011, p.7).
  2. Be analytical rather than simply descriptive and back up your arguments by referring to relevant theory, journal articles, or other sources.
  3. Include live links to other resources  by hyperlinking text (the danger is that eventually some of these resources will become unavailable so for important posts which have a wide readership you might want to revisit these and do some spring cleaning).
  4. Incorporate multimedia to enliven the blog and make it more aesthetically pleasing although be wary of using imagery simply as “decorative eye candy” (Clarke and Lyons, 2004) which doesn’t serve a purpose.
  5. Reference all your work.  You do not need to use the full Harvard Referencing system (unless your blog is being included for assessment) but do make sure readers have enough information to find the relevant resources. This is useful when you return to your blog posts and want to avoid having to rummage around to find resources.
  6. Proof-read. We all make mistakes when writing online due to the spontaneous nature of blogging. The odd spelling and grammar mistake is inevitable but if your work is to be showcased to a larger audience or used for assessment purposes then be more careful.
  7. Personalise your blog so that your own voice can be heard, this makes your blog posts more readable. Read this short blog post on naval gazing about blogging which highlights this. Include narratives which draw the reader in but do not get side tracked by writing extensively about the cat playing under your feet if you are trying to make an important point.
  8. Make sure you are familiar with your organisations policies in relation to social media if your blog is directly related to your work. You may need to inform other colleagues within the organisation (they will no doubt be interested to read your blog anyway).
  9. Be mindful of your public persona even. Your personal musings and ramblings are evidently useful for yourself (and perhaps other readers) in helping you to unravel ideas and concepts but ranting and raving online may elicit negative responses and become known to your employer.
  10. Invite other readers to comment. “Constructive controversy” is useful, Ryman et al (2009, p.32) and gives us the opportunity to extend the boundaries of knowledge and shift our perceptions. Web 2.0 tools and the practice of blogging present the opportunity to “learn, unlearn and relearn” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011).

  11. If you want a wider audience send your links via twitter, facebook or email. It is a good idea to put links to other blogs on your own blog via the blog roll. You can also subscribe to other blog posts via RSS.
  12. Be respectful and courteous at all times. Allow other people to voice their opinions.
  13. Mutual coherence. Make sure your comments to other blogs or your reply to readers is “mutually coherent” (Yacci, 2009) in that you are responding in a useful and constructive way avoiding inane comments and platitudes. Simply stating that you agree with a post is not enough, why do you agree and can you add anything further to the conversation. Watch this super little video clip of primary school learners providing their own tips on commenting on blogs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDVSw54VU1A

  14. Reciprocity. When blogging to facilitate a community of practice post comments on other blogs and reply to your own comments. This “socially mediated metacognition” arises from the “reciprocal process of exploring each other’s reasoning and viewpoints in order to construct a shared understanding” (Gunawardena et al, 2009, p.14).
  15. Social capital (Tufecki, 2008) and the affective benefits. The driving force behind any kind of online community is the social aspect. We engage in social networking to redefine ourselves in the eyes of others, shape our identity and bond with others. The affective benefits of belonging to an online community, that is how we feel, is pivotal in motivating us to engage in our endeavours. Honesty, trust and respect glues a community together. Taking this into account, above all, when you start blogging, remember it is a social process in which you may re-establish a relationship with yourself and others so enjoy it! G&T anyone?

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References

Clark, C. & Lyons, R. (2004) Graphics for Learning. Jossey Bass Willey

Downes, S., (2011) Access: Future. Practical Advice on What to Learn and How to Learn [online] Available at: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf [Accessed 12 November 2012]

Dunlap, J.C., Lowenthal, P.R., (2011) Learning, unlearning, and relearning: Using Web 2.0 technologies to support the development of lifelong learning skills. In G.D. Magoulas (Ed.), E-infrastructures and technologies for lifelong learning: Next generation environments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global

Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M.B., Sanchez, D., Richmond. C., Bohley, M., Tuttle,  R., (2009) A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp.3-16

O’Donnell, M., (2006) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology, Asia Pacific Media Educator, Vol. 17, pp.5-19 [online] Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/apme/vol1/iss17/3 [Accessed 21 September 2012]

Ryman, S., Hardman G., Richardson, B., Ross, J. (2009) Creating and Sustaining Online Learning Communities: Designing for Transformative Learning. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, Vol 5, Issue 3, pp.32-45

Tufecki, Z., (2008b) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace, Information Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No.4, pp.544-564

Yacci, M. (2000) Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT, [online] Available at: http://www.ist.rit.edu/~may/interactiv8.pdf [Accessed 24 October 2011]

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How do I get started with blogging?

If you have not read many blogs before I suggest you go to some of the blogs listed in Educational blogosphere to get a feel for how others express themselves.

You might want to find other blogs not related to education and wordpress is a good place to start. They have what is called freshly pressed blogs on a weekly basis which are the most popular blogs. Unfortunately you will need to register with wordpress first to be able to view them all.
Freshly pressed!

An example of freshly pressed sites.

Once you have established your objective for blogging and know what you want to achieve then register with wordpress (or one of the other main blog host providers like blogger, edublogs, tumbler or posterous) and create your first blog. Spend some time personalising your blog so that you are happy with how it looks. Think carefully about the name of your blog as you might not be able to change this at a later date. You might not want to use your own name and prefer to use a blog name which identifies your area of interest. You do not need to name your organisation. When you write your very first post be a bit spontaneous and do not attempt any topic too complex which will stifle your creativity. You might want to start writing about your reasons for blogging and what you hope to achieve on your journey. Put some time aside to get 3 or 4 posts written within a specific time frame to get accustomed to the process and get into the flow.

Russell Stannard has produced some simple video tutorials on getting started using wordpress which may help you get started at http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/wordPress/index.html

Remember, be brave and bold, you have a voice, express yourself.

References 

Clark, C. & Lyons, R. (2004) Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials. Pfeiffer

Collis, B.A., Moonen, J.C (2006) The contributing student: Learners as co-developers of learning resources for reuse in Web environments. In D. Hung and M.S Khine (eds.), Engaged learning with emerging technologies. Springer Dordrect, Nederland.

Downes, S. (2011) Access: Future. Practical Advice on What to Learn and How to Learn [online]. Available at: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/AccessFuture.pdf [Accessed 16 October 2012]

Dunlap, J.C., Lowenthal, P.R. (2011) Learning, unlearning and relearning: Using Web 2.0 technologies to support the development of lifelong learning skills. In G.D. Magoulas (Ed.), E-infrastructures and technologies for lifelong learning: Next Generation environments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global

Fessakis, G., Konstantinos, T., Dimitracopoulou, A., (2008) Supporting Learning by Design Activitgies Using Group Blogs. Educational Technology and Society. Vol.11, No. 4, pp.199-212

Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M.B., Sanchez, D., Richmond. C., Bohley, M., Tuttle, R., (2009) A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp.3-16

McLoughlin, C., Lee, M., (2007) Social Software and participatory learning: Pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the Web 2.0 era, Proceedings ascilite Singpore 2007

O’Donnell, M., (2006) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology, Asia Pacific Media Educator, Vol. 17, pp.5-19 [online] Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/apme/vol1/iss17/3 [Accessed 21 September 2012]

Preece, J. (2010) Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and measuring success, Behaviour and Information Technology, Vol. 20, No. 5, pp.347-356

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools
for Classrooms
. U.S.A: Corwin.

Silva, L., Lakshmi, G., Mousavidin, E., (2008) Exploring the dynamics of blog communities: the case of MetaFliter, Information Systems Journal, Vol.19, pp.55-81

Tufekci, Z. (2008b) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace, Information Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No.4, pp.544-564

Wenger, E. (1998) A Social Theory of Learning, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Yacci, M. (2000) Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT, [online] Available at: http://www.ist.rit.edu/~may/interactiv8.pdf [Accessed 24 October 2011]

Yang, S. (2009) Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice, Educational Technology & Society, Vol 12, No. 2, pp.11-21

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