Sunday, January 30, 2011

Back on Ning

So, I have moved back to Ning ...

Despite hearing from the head guy on my prior post about technology, I have not been able to get my front page reactivated. I also found last semester that doesn't thread replies to conversations, and that just does not work as well as having replies linked to the original comment.

So, Pearson has accepted my Ning, and I am working under limited abilities. I still love the overall functionality of Ning better than anything else I have been able to find, but the limits to educational Nings are just frustrating. My latest question with Ning is why do I HAVE to approve all blog posts on a private, educational ning? I want students to read each others' posts and comment ... so I have found myself constantly checking if there are new posts to approve just to force a kind of natural flow. Sigh ...

On the upside, I have a wonderful new Virginia Tech graduate student, Meg Dixon, working with my students in the Ning, under the capable supervision of Katie Dredger. I am excited to be able, through my ODU program, to study and write about this collaborative work I have done with Virginia Tech for two years. I have found so many benefits to having my students branching out and working at a true college level with Tech's college mentors, and I am excited to really pin down what all is happening. One of the things I hope to research through this project is Google Sites as a possible alternative to Ning. if anyone has any input on this, I would love to hear it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blog Assignment #1: Case-Study of Social Software

Minocha, Shailey. "A Case Study-Based Investigation of Students' Experiences with Social Software Tools." New Review of Hypermedia & Multimedia 15.3 (2009): 245-65. Print.

Teaching at a 1:1 laptop school, I have used “social software” extensively in my classroom. As Shailey Minocha writes, “the key aspect of a Web 2.0 or social software tool is that it involves wider participation in the creation of information which is shared” (245). Blogs, wikis, nings, Google Docs, Twitter – all are social software. Researchers and teachers are intrigued by how these creation opportunities can stimulate higher student engagement and learning, particularly with writing.

I have done my own reflection after using Web 2.0 tools, from determining whether students reached curricular goals to asking them for their thoughts on the use of the software. However, I have not done formal research into the measurable efficacy of social software in the classroom; therefore I was extremely interested to read Minocha’s article. This article will be equally interesting for others using or studying Web 2.0 tools in classrooms. More importantly, it is also an excellent introduction to using these tools, so a novice teacher will gain much too.

Minocha and her colleagues carefully designed their research plan around empirical case studies. The article delineates their methods plus possible limitations; as a result, Minocha’s findings are credible and verifiable, thus highly instructive to readers. Teacher-scholars are Minocha’s particular audience because the study focused solely on schools.

Minocha and her colleagues had no preconceptions entering this study. This is clear when she presents her research goal: to study the “educational goals of using social software; benefits to the students; and the challenges they experience” (245). Minocha and her colleagues did find both benefits and challenges. They present these in narrative form along with a chart connecting possible solutions to each challenge (this chart is the main reason this article is so helpful for novice teachers because they can see possible pitfalls before they even begin).

Ultimately, this study found more positive results of using social software than negative. The negatives, such as ownership concerns and equal participation complaints, are ones the authors clearly feel, through their solutions chart, can be addressed. I would like to add that I have seen some of the negative concerns become a reality, such as students feeling like they are “being forced to comment” (257), and I agree with Minocha’s overall recommendations: “For a social software initiative, it is important that educators align the usage of the tool(s) to the learning outcomes of a course or programme. Next, it is important to explain to the students the rationale of the tool and how the tool will support their learning and skills development” (260-262). Careful planning is rewarded by benefits ranging from “engagement of students” to “inspirational learning” to a “sense of … ownership” (252-253). If my students are engaged and inspired by work they feel is truly theirs, I have helped to create true writers.

(Note to readers of my blog: I will be posting article and chapter reviews for the next few months as part of Dr. Kevin DePew's Pedagogy and Instructional Design class for the PhD program at Old Dominion University. I hope these give you some interesting reading to explore!)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Technology Tussle

Here is my almost daily question: Why is technology so unreliable? Actually, a more accurate phrasing of that question would be: Why does technology not really do what it advertises it will do?

Here are my experiences just this week:
  • -- I moved to this site in August because I was really bothered by Ning becoming fee-based and I did not want to be an ad platform for Pearson (nothing personal against Pearson -- I just felt wrong becoming an ad place for them). Of course, is now following the money PLUS I have not been able to access any payment options for weeks on their site or been able to make my public so I can see my front page again. Today, I cannot even access my No notice, just no available. Can't wait for my class later today when we actually, surprise surprise, wanted to use our to ... collaborate ...
  • Crocodoc -- I thought this would be a great alternative to Diigo (which could be a completely different bullet except I have not used Diigo in months because its annotation tools are SO unreliable). So, I get my class all set up, they start annotating, and we quickly have annotations scrolling for pages that are linked to sentences way, way above. No way to close comments or to respond to comments -- just one long list of comments that really are not visibly attached to anything ... so no collaborating on annotating with this collaborative annotation tool ...
  • Skype -- My professor is trying to use this for the audio portion of our class (because Adobe Connect's -- our conferencing software -- audio is apparently known to be problematic), and he has struggled for two weeks now because half the people cannot hear. It is never the same half of course. I feel so sorry for him because, as technology teacher myself, I know the headache of trying to troubleshoot on the spot. All he was trying to do was to communicate via the web ... what Skype promotes itself as ... hmmm ...
I love the ideas I have about how to teach better and more powerfully through the tools I can harness in my school's 1:1 laptop program. But if I had made a scorecard of hits and misses, I have to be honest that my misses column would be far, far longer. The hits make it all worth it (Google Docs -- thank you for changing to allow synchronous editing!!) ... so just thank you for allowing me to vent.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Own Blogging Challenge

While I *think* I signed up for the EduBlog Teacher Challenge, I am not sure where to go to get the challenges, but I have been inspired enough to challenge myself to return to my blog. My goal is to use this blog partly as my reflection for my Pedagogy and Instructional Design class this semester. I began a PhD program in English this past fall, and I think this current course will offer me many things to share on this blog with its focus on pedagogy and a book titled Multiliteracies.

The course starts tomorrow, and I have a few goals to achieve in it:
  • Write about my collaboration with fellow graduate student (she is at Virginia Tech and I am at ODU) Katie Dredger -- this will be our second year joining our classes together online to study Shakespeare specifically but reading and writing overall
  • Renew my commitment to Twitter so that I can rejuvenate my wonderful yet wonderfully dormant network
  • Develop one new unit plan that takes further advantage of the technology resources at my 1:1 laptop school
And of course ...
  • Write on this blog about it all
I joined this PhD program because of its focus on writing and rhetoric as well as new media. My ultimate goal, now that I have my feet wet after completing my first class, is to join my new studies with my current uses of technology. I think both will benefit.