- Teachers have been blogging with students within our board for at least 8 years
- Blogging within the school board, beyond the rudimentary First Class blogging tool, has never been universalized in any formal way
- Teachers adopt and implement blogging within their classrooms using a variety of tools
- Blogging tools are constantly changing their Terms of Service, their cost requirements and their advertising policies
- Building capacity, whether colleague to colleague, or from a system role, is difficult when everyone favours a different tool
- Internationally, academic institutions are beginning to recognize blogging as an effective tool for learning, and have formalized the process of using blogs by providing a system tool. This list collates schools that have adopted a system blogging platform (http://wordpress.org/showcase/tag/education/) some highlights include Stanford, Harvard, The University of British Columbia, The University of Calgary, MIT
- Locally, at the Elementary/Secondary Level, the WRDSB is in the process of implementing a universal blog platform for teachers and students
- All Windows Live users have recently been transitioned to WordPress, making it one of the most widely recognized/utilized platforms in the world, hosting websites for Macleans Magazine, CNN, LeMonde Newspaper, and The New York Times (http://en.wordpress.com/notable-users/)
- 900 000 new blogs are created every month at wordpress.com (http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/signups-doubled/)
- The HWDSB is currently training teachers on WordPress as part of the Corp. Communications School Website initiative
- The blogging potential within the upcoming Sharepoint Portal project will be limited at first, and not geared to student use during phase one
Historical (Personal Sidebar) Role
As a Teacher within the HWDSB
- I have utilized blogging as an element in my classroom for the past six years
- I started blogging with First Class. It’s safe. It’s easy to implement (usernames are already created), but; authentic blogging is cumbersome in the current FC client; it doesn’t allow for feedback/commentary from outside sources; and the URL structure makes it difficult to share. The FC blogging platform, given its lack of authenticity, in comparison with other “real world” blogging tools, lacks the element of engagement necessary to inspire “buy-in” from students (this can’t be overstated)
- Migrated student blogs to http://edublogs.org This service began as a free, ad-free service. It has since moved towards a more commercial model. I abandoned edublogs when it began advertising within the body of the student’s writing. Edublogs runs on a WordPress code-base.
- Moved on to http://ning.com A service that emulates a social networking platform (Facebook). The Ning blogging component required the students to understand basic html code in order to embed media creations. Ning changed their policy and began charging for their service. It was at this point that I realized that any tool that I didn’t own, could change, disappear, price itself out of my reach, etc. I started investigating hosting my own blogging platform.
- Created http://litcircuits.com a WordPress blogging platform that began as a host for my small class at Dundas Central, which then grew into a Junior initiative within that school. From there, I began hearing similar frustrations from other teachers and began inviting them to join “my” site, where I could help support them, and I could guarantee that that the Terms of Service would not change.
- Aviva Dunsiger at Ancaster Meadow hosts both her professional blog, and her classes group blog at grade1ad.litcircuits.com and grade1.litcircuits.com respectively
- Bill Hughey hosts his Grade 6 classes individual blogs on litcircuits.com
- Matt Scheben at Dundas Central has taken over the blogs that I created last year with the Grade ⅚ gifted class, continuing on the work I started
- The gifted students who have travelled to Dalewood and Ballard from my Dundas Central class can be seen “lurking” within the group forums the site provides, and some have continued to publish work. Eg: http://mabe2809.litcircuits.com/
As a Consultant with the HWDSB
- Two Grade 6 classes at Spencer Valley have been integrated into the network as part of their TLCP process, based on the Support Visit Team’s suggestion that this school focus on Technology in their already successful classrooms. Both classes have individual student blogs
- Four classrooms at Chedoke have begun investigating blogging on the litcircuits platform
- Primary and Junior classrooms at Sir William Osler are blogging eg: 34swo.litcircuits.com
- The Blended Learning project at Delta needed a LMS/Blogging platform to centralize conversations across the classrooms involved, and give the students a central place to interact: one that looks and acts like the authentic tools they interact with on a social level to enhance engagement. With that in mind we created theclassroo.ms, specifically to service the needs of the Delta 1:1 laptop initiative.
- Social Justice and the Eco-schools project expressed a need to digitally manage the entries in their Film Festival, and to create paper-less learning environments repectively. We utilized theclassroo.ms community to realize this need
- Orchard Park Secondary School began looking for new ways to deliver their mentorship message to the Grade 8 students from their seven feeder schools. Again, the orchardparkmentoring.theclassroo.ms infrastructure was utilized to respond to this need.
- Other examples around the board too numerous to mention, involving all three clusters and approx. 3000+ students
- This form of service could not be maintained. Our small department, administrating and troubleshooting a site built for a limited number of users, now emerging as an enterprise solution out of the virtue of my new role in the board. We had reached a tipping point, where litcircuits and theclassroo.ms would soon cease to effectively serve its existing clientele. In the latter part of the year, we began pointing people back to the commercial tools we were attempting to avoid by suggesting litcircuits.com and theclassroo.ms in the first place, out of virtue of not wanting to affect the experience of the existing users.
- Teachers are already blogging with their students, whether through litcircuits.com, through First Class, or through any number of other commercial blogging platforms
- Every week at least one teacher contacts us around the prospect of creating blogs for their students
- We have no way to know how the student information shared on these different platforms is being utilized
- We have no way to ensure that our students are not being subjected to inappropriate advertising on their blogs
- We have no way to control the inappropriate nature of other blogs being published on the same network if that teacher-selected tool is not an edu-centric blogging platform
Why Do We Need This?
What Does it Provide our Students?
- Blogs would provide a “centralized portfolio” where creative work can be posted from multiple disciplines
- Blogs would provide an ongoing digital portfolio that the student would continue contributing to from year to year, instead of having to utilize a different tool for each class, for each year, for each assignment
- This ongoing digital portfolio would allow teachers to assess the level of achievement of students entering their classrooms (see work from June in early Sept.)
- Digital portfolios would allow for better sharing of student work (the display wall becomes infinitely larger, and more accessible to other feedback and monitoring by other teachers, administration, and students), leading to a better knowledge of our students
- Digital portfolios/Blogs, by their very nature, are conversation tools that enable feedback to occur from multiple sources. Assessment as Learning occurs organically as students read and comment on each other’s submissions
- An authentic audience is created
- A community of writers is created. The teacher is no longer the only “reader” of the work
- The portfolio becomes a repository where creations from other Web 2.0 tools (stop motion animation, podcasting, comics, movies etc.) can be centrally located, shared, and assessed. The portfolio becomes the “binder” where all digital work is collected
- A centralized digital community of learners allows for a collaborative curriculum, where teachers are able to not only share lesson ideas, but also share student exemplars of previous lessons that can then be implemented within other classrooms
- When an event of global or local importance occurs, programming can unfold centrally on a more consistent basis, as it did with the prompt questions shared through John Malloy’s office after the earthquake in Haiti
To quote specific curriculum documentation would be overwhelming. Curriculum expectations can be applied to digital publication in myriad ways. Instead, here are some elements of the School Effectiveness Framework that I feel directly correlate to a project of this nature. The following points to the connecting component, and notes connections with the SEF.
School Effectiveness Framework
- facilitates ongoing, descriptive feedback from teachers and peers
- creates multiple opportunities for feedback
- makes student work more transparent, allowing for students to self-assess, and view exemplars from multiple locations (just in time/on-demand learning)
- Enables “the collection and development of personal learning files that inform the next steps in their learning”
- Enables “learning conversations and peer assessment to explain and question their own thinking”
- Facilitates the collaborative planning across grades and courses when face-to-face co-planning time is at a premium
- Is authentic in an age of digital publication. Web 2.0 tends to offer the creative, rich performance tasks mentioned here
- Learning portfolios that can be be shared and monitored from K to 12
- Students can provide feedback on their own work in a more relevant way, they continue to “publish”/show their thinking as they react to feedback from the community
- This network would be a “school-wide process…(that would) inform and engage parents and students in learning” (creates a more transparent classroom)
- It is: “a system…in place that allows teachers, students and parents to continuously monitor student progress (e.g. student agenda, classroom website, moodle, blog)
It would be a good first step to ensuring that At the District level, we are “assuming responsibility for improving collaborative instructional leadership in schools”
- Connects the students to “the global learning community through technology”
4.3 The Digital Learning Environment that the blogging platform provides enables or enhances all of the elements mentioned in this component of the SEF
At the school:
- Professional practice, lifelong learning and leadership are modelled through the effective use of digital tools and resources.
- Policies for the safe, legal and ethical use of digital information and technology are established, modelled and promoted.
- Students are connected and challenged beyond the world of the school using learning technologies.
- A global perspective is developed and presented in content areas where appropriate.
- Critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration are emphasized.
- Collaboration, lifelong learning, inquiry, reflection and technology use are modelled
In the classroom:
- A personal and local perspective is cultivated so that each student can make relevant links to the curriculum.
- Higher order thinking skills are taught and consistently integrated across disciplines.
- Students are taught to integrate, synthesize and apply content knowledge in novel situations.
- Assignments and assessments require students to engage in critical thinking, problem solving and analytical tasks.
- Students work with real world data, tools and experts.
- Instruction includes how to access resources, connect with others and create e-communities and learn about the ethical/legal issues surrounding access and use of information technologies.
- Have access to and use technologies to support and document their learning.( e.g. digital cameras, film, web 2.0, podcasting, video, graphing technology, assistive software and interactive whiteboards).
- Integrate, synthesize and apply content knowledge in novel situations with growing independence.
- View challenges as opportunities to learn.
- Work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams.
- Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information technologies.
Notes from the Past: Suggested Next Steps (Written on March 16th 2011)
- Although we are presenting a case for a sense of urgency surrounding the need for a tool like this, I would suggest that we aim for a September 2011 launch
- Early-adopters will continue to collaborate on the existing platform, requiring an initial move to a more dynamic hosting server (whether that is within our current infrastructure, or we perpetuate the relationship I have forged with the current host for the next 6 months)
- We treat as a pilot project to investigate different applications of the tool, with the goal of migrating the user-base to our own platform for the next school year
- We liaise with other stakeholders within the board, including Computer Services, Corporate Communications, and Program: sharing the potential for the platform, and beginning the discussion of how this would sync with existing projects and pending Portal infrastructure
- We liaise with other boards to gather data on how others have implemented similar networks
Where we are Now
- commons.hwdsb.on.ca is now a reality: an internally hosted learning network/blog/wiki/discussion platform, linked to active directory, prepared to serve the varied needs of all the staff and students from the HWDSB
This blog has been created to help chart the journey; to document the process and to support others who are looking to walk this path. I will not be the only voice you hear within this space; but I will say that I am extremely happy to have a space like this to share my voice.