Collaboration through twitter?

Last Thursday’s #edchatNZ has had me thinking a bit. The focus was on Collaboration. This in itself is a great topic and I’m really keen to see much more collaboration amongst teachers. However, there seemed to be a lot of people saying that the Edchat and Twitter were some of the best collaboration they had.

This really bothered me.

I did a quick search and tweeted this:

The problem I was having was that I could see that twitter and twitter chats are great for connection, for discussion and networking, but I couldn’t see much collaboration going on.

Twitter might start the discussion that lead to collaborative opportunities but I question how much collaborative work is being done “to produce something”.

Now, I’m not saying that collaboration cannot occur through twitter, I just wonder if true collaboration is occuring. How often is discussion/collaboration through twitter happening that results in an end product?

I want to see much more collaboration occuring amongst teachers. Particularly collaboration amongst colleagues within their own schools. I think that often this doesn’t happen to the extent that it should. I love hearing stories of where it is happening and hope that it’s spreading.

I also love hearing stories of the connectedness that is occuring thanks to Twitter, the VLN and other online (and offline) sites. It’s really exciting. I often wonder though about the ratio to those educators who are truly connected to those that are not yet connected (particularly online). Those that read great blog posts and get involved in the twitter chats that get them reflecting and improving on their own practice is probably minimal. Are the people that read these posts the ones that need to hear the messages? It’s a bit like preaching to the converted sometimes.

On the other hand, it’s good to keep sharing as if even one person takes something from a comment on twitter or a blog post that they can reflect on or take away to improve their practice then that is a great benefit not only to that teacher but to all the students that they teach.

I’ve got a bit off topic here, so maybe there’s another blog post to come at some point. Oh well. I’ll keep writing and hopefully some of what I say sometimes will resonate with someone!

Thanks for reading!

 

Modern learning spaces & collaboration

Albany Senior High School (1)

I read this blog post from the CORE Education blog Modern Learning Environments: Not ‘any colour as long as it’s black’ and the second part of it headed up Teacher learning really got me thinking.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have never taught in a modern learning space. These are simply my thoughts and observations from what I have seen, read and heard.

I imagine, although I cannot be certain that probably 95% or more of schools in New Zealand do not have modern learning spaces (I would love someone to tell me that I’m very wrong about this!). There could be a number of reasons for this, but I imagine that the most likely is that most of our schools are aging, and the funding that they receive for building and maintenance does not enable them to modernise across the school very quickly – they either have to do one or two classrooms or a block at a time, or try to do a little bit across all/many classrooms. I have a little bit of experience as a Board of Trustees member and when it comes to buildings there seems to be a balancing act between these classrooms must be replaced now and let’s be fair across everyone and upgrade a part of every classroom so that it’s consistent across the school. I believe many of our schools simply haven’t been given a real opportunity to update themselves, so unless you’re in a brand new school, chances are high that you’re teaching or learning in silos – in individual classrooms separated from one another by four walls.

It has been my observation that sometimes (certainly not always the case) these classrooms become a certain teachers domain, and although some are willing to collaborate, often collaboration does not occur at the level perhaps needed/desired.

Interestingly, I have also observed in online “classrooms”, in what could be considered a modern learning space, that we talk a lot about how collaboration and interaction can occur with students but seem to do little of it with teachers. The technology we are using to run these online classes is set up for communication and interaction but it appears often that only goes as far as our students. Yes, I am generalising, and I’m sure those that are reading this blog are collaborating with other teachers in a variety of ways, however I know this is not always the case.

I strongly believe that if we have these expectations of our students, then we as teachers need to be doing it too. We need to collaborate with teachers in our schools and build professional networks to learn, to grow and to inspire us. We need to do what we can to move out of the comfortable silos that we we have grown accustomed to and share our experiences with our colleagues.

This year I have started team-teaching online with two other teachers. It’s going to be an interesting journey as we bare all in how we teach and interact online. I think it will be good for all of us because we are having to be open and because we are able to learn from each other. We have no choice but to work together.

 

BTW: The CORE Ed blog is well worth following if you don’t already.

Image: Albany Senior High School By 4nitsirkKristina D.C. Hoeppner – flickr.com

Learning spaces

My wife and I were watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the other day. On this episode the design team built a school room in a house for two home-schooled children aged 6 and 8. These girls had an immune deficiency disease so they could not go to school due to the high risk of infection.

It was, as it usually is a lovely episode, but what got me was the school room. It was a great room with the latest technology such as laptops, an interactive whiteboard and video conferencing unit. There was science gear, art supplies and so on. What got me though were the two individual desks in the middle of the room with a laptop on each for the girls to work at. All I could think of was that it is so cliche to have school desks like this. Yes there was a table for doing art together, but those desks made it look like that was the place where work is done and done on their own.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think individual desks should not be allowed in classrooms especially children of this age. They don’t encourage interaction between students or collaboration. The video conferencing unit was great for them to interact with other students from around the world (fantastic!), but what about interaction with each other in the same room. Yes, I know it will still happen, but is it the same?

Modern classrooms should be built with this in mind. We should be encouraging interaction and collaboration. This is normal behavior in a work place, so these skills should be developed at school.

I like hearing about the learning spaces at places such as Albany Senior High School (link to Steve Wheeler‘s blog), or the different classroom layout that Andrew Churches (link to Andrew’s blog) has at Kristen School. These are just a couple of examples and there are many more. There is also probably no perfect classroom, but it’s so important now to ensure our learning spaces promote students building the skills they will need in later life.

Christchurch earthquake – a teaching resource

My colleagues and I have set up a WikiEducator page about the recent Christchurch earthquake (February 22, 2011). We are collaborating with scientists, teachers and students from around New Zealand and the world. It is only in it’s very beginning stages, however the plan is that this resource will help lead students towards achieving the New Zealand NCEA Achievement Standard 90955 Investigate and astronomical or Earth science event. There is of course no reason why this resource could not work towards other qualifications around the world.

A big aim of the resource is that it will answer some of the questions that people have about the earthquake. A common question for example is, “What is liquefaction?” Hopefully, also, a resource like this might help people to be prepared for another disaster of this kind (if you can ever be fully prepared).

If you have something you are able to add to this resource, please do so. It is exciting to think we can collaborate on a project like this. Like I said before, it’s only in it’s beginning stages. It needs to have some structure given to it, but the hope is to have something prepared as quickly as possible – within the next 2-3 weeks.

Looking forward to the collaboration and the opportunity to work with a variety of different people!

Here’s the link: http://wikieducator.org/Earthquake:_Christchurch_2011

 

Our thoughts continue to go out to those affected by this tragic event.

Google Series – Part 4: Google Docs

Well I was thinking of heading to Google Docs for this post, and I will, but I’m not going to post much as a good blog post was recently made. It outlines new sharing and editing options in it.

So next time I’ll start to go into detail about Google Docs, but for now – have a look at this post from Free Technology for Teachers to see if you want to explore it further.

I will say this now – Google Docs has great potential for education, collaboration etc.

iEtherpad

I was just invited to observe/join in with a colleague using iEtherpad with an online class. Here are a few thoughts about it’s use.

iEtherpad is the latest take on Etherpad. Actually, only in the internet address is the ‘i’ used – I’m not sure why. Etherpad is a great free collaborative tool for working on a document. It is similar to Google docs, however the synchronous interface seems to work much better in Etherpad.

This was the first time my colleague had used in collaboratively with a class (and the first time I had seen it used properly). I would say the first important thing to remember if you want to use it with a class is to make sure you have already set up some key questions for students to answer on the page. This way they can work in groups and put together a document.

It could be used as a sort of ‘chat’ or question/answer area, but it does have it’s own chat function off to the side (which works well).

iEtherpad assigns colours to each person that is online, however it only has a few colours to choose from and these can easily be used up in which case doubleing-up of colours occurs. When in the main document the text is highlighted by the colour of the person typing it. This is fine unless there are 2 or more people with the same colour. It does not show the name of the person typing it in the document. One clever student actually suggested including their name with what they were writing.

Another issue with Etherpad is that as the number of users increases, the number of people dropping off also increases. Hopefully this issue will be able to be resolved.

The timeline function in Etherpad allows you to see everything that has happened on the document over time. You can go back to a certain point and work on it from there or just see the changes that have been made.

The document can currently be exported as txt or html, however this is not always great. It loses the colours of who has had what input. One way around this is to go into the timeline function and print to PDF. Of course not everyone is able to do this.

Overall iEtherpad is a great tool for collobarative work – and very good for students. It is well worth a look and a play.

ePortfolio’s

On Sunday I had the opportunity to go to a session on ePortfolio’s run by Desire 2 Learn. It was a very useful, informative session and was not a “promoting our product” time at all. In face their product was not mentioned unless specific questions were asked. Well done D2L!

So here are a few notes from the session:

 

What is it?

Portfolio – collection of evidence gathered together –> shows a person’s learning journey over time (Butler, 2006).

ePortfolio – can have:

– supporting files
– evaluations, reflections and recommendations
– evidence of educational competencies
– writing samples (inlcuding drafts)
– projects
– evidence of creativity and performance
– evidence of extracurricular activities including leadership examples.

Why use an ePortfolio?

There are many advantages to an ePortfolio over a standard, paper-based portfolio:

– hyperlinked navigation / multimedia / ease of sharing
– easy access – anywhere, anytime
– one ePortfolio can have many uses (as you can create different views for different people to see)
– efficient organisation and management

Dedicated ePortfolio’s can give controlled access; they can be integrated with other systems (such as an LMS); can be used for assessment purposes; and can incorporate other web-based products.

 

ePortfolio’s & Learning

ePortfolio’s can expand learning opportunities. They are active, personal, reflective and social.

ePortfolio’s can be used by students for reflective learning. They can be used for recording information/reflections for example about work placements/practicums. They can capture the research, teaching and learning processes happening during research projects.

Recognition of prior learning can be shown in an ePortfolio. Assessment can be recorded (as well as comments, improvements etc).

They are a fantastic resource for showcasing student work.

 

ePortfolio’s for Teachers

ePortfolio’s can be used by teaching staff in much the same way as for students. They can be used to record/document/produce:

– Professional development
– Performance review
– Resumes and job applications
– Professional portfolio’s
– Peer review/assessment
– Showcase professional and personal achievement.

 

Summary

An ePortfolio is a powerful tool for both students and teachers. It allows learning to be documented in a structured way. It allows security of documents with the user choosing who can see what documents/blogs/etc.

Possibly the most useful part for teaching and learning is that, if used correctly it can capture collaboration that is going on between students, with the teacher, and with the community.

It is a journal of their learning.