Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Concept for my final project

I'm jumping for joy today because I've finally got a solid concept for my final individual project. It is meant to be a resource for teachers to learn about constructivist uses of technology in education, and I've been struggling with how to use stories to tell about different kinds classroom experiences with technology in a way that lets readers construct their own knowledge and perhaps build upon the website and tell their own stories.

I've loved the term bricolage (referred to by educators such as Seymour Papert, Gary Stager, Mitchel Resnick) which I think can, in this case, relate to what holistic educators believe about uniting the parts of a learner: body, mind and soul....hands, head, heart. Bricolage is defined as
a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things, and aptly describes the idea that technology, in it's widely varied forms, can be used flexibly and purposefully by learners in order to construct knowledge. The idea of making something, called Constructionism by Seymour Papert, has been an important one to me, and will be reflected in my web project.

And so, I've got a title Bricolage: Connecting Playfully. Now, the scary part is to put my text (which I'm really good at collecting) into a story that somehow reflects me...my holistic attempt at constructing a product from a variety of available things! Yikes!

Group Project Completed!

This was a challenging project for our group, but in the end I think we've created an excellent construction of what we feel is important about Community and Collaboration. We created a website called Professional Learning Communities and we addressed this quite academically, which doesn't really surprise me, given our group members: Denise, Deborah, Sarah and Allison. We're a rather committed (in a good sense), knowledgeable group interested in learning and committing to doing our share and following timelines.

The assignment began exploring the larger issue of Connections and my part was about the Social Networking connections that students are making as Net Generation learners. Somehow our title then morphed into Professional Learning Communities, but I hope my part still fits okay. Social Networks are Learning Communities, especially if teachers use some of the recommended ones like http://www.iearn.org or http://www.takingitglobal.org.

Anyway, it was too late as things went on to discuss the change with the group, so I'm living with it as it is...an excellent resource that I know that I'll use in the future.

We had a few aggravations with issues like browser problems. For some reason when you view the site you may see ? marks instead of "quotation". This, in addition to the ads on the page, finally helped me decide to use iWeb rather than Freewebs. There are a lot of great features in Freewebs, but the browswer issues were problem.
You can check it out at http://www.freewebs.com/seeirwin/ if you like.

I wondered too, whether I should have volunteered to take on the technical side of things on the website, although Sarah did a fantastic job and she volunteered to take it on early on in the project. It was hard to help without a login to the site, and I would have done some things a little differently, for example, linking our audio and video using the template links for media to avoid them looking just like another weblink.

My proofreading could have been done a bit better as well. In my hurry to make the content deadline, I neglected to proof my work well enough, which led to a headache for Sarah I think.
The onslaught of email for her must have been frustrating from the 3 of us and some messages were missed which created some confusion. Next time I would proof better and suggest revisions by section and more communication (probably IM would be best) between the writer and the web editor.

All and all a successful project, and a great learning experience!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mentoring and Freewebs....some thoughts

Well, it's been interesting to be a mentor during my CTL1799 course, although I'm not sure that being known for technology aptitude is helping me 'break out of my box' and explore other areas of holistic approaches. Instead of exploring the art, music or spiritual sites provided by my instructor and countless classmates, I find myself doing what I'm already quite addicted to doing...searching the web and learning how to debug little (oh sure...they never are!) problems.

I've finally decided NOT to go with Freewebs as a web tool, although it's really easy to use and there are a lot of very cool add-ons. The issue that has finally decided that I'll using iWeb is the browser issues. Tonight I went back to one of my pages on the site to copy a link, only to find that all of my quotation mark are now question marks. Arggghhh! This is not okay! I can't believe how long this decision has been in coming...but iWeb it will be. I also maybe consider purchasing RapidWeaver that integrates with iWeb if I need more flexibility.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Group Project

This was a challenging project for our group, but in the end I think we've created an excellent product about the importance of Community and Collaboration. We created a website called Professional Learning Community: Teacher to Teacher Dialogue
and we feature 4 connections: Learning (PLCs), Writing, Social Networks and Bookclubs. It was a great experience to work with this really dedicated group of five who were very concerned with both academics and aesthetics and were very respectful of the busy schedule and strict timeline that needed to be followed. We had excellent trust and openness that allowed for flexibility and creativity, and by choosing parts of the task to focus upon, we were really committed and engaged in our learning.

I learned a ton about Net Generation Learners, something that will be useful next year when I'm talking to teachers about advantages of integrating technology use into their programs. If you are interested in hearing about these learners check out this podcast from Net Day and Educause.
My course is moving along at a frantic pace, probably because it is a 6-week course with many of the assignments requiring partner or group work online. I'm finding it hard to have the time to journal here, and have begun drafting my reflection paper. I've discovered that it's difficult to journal online for the purpose of writing a reflective paper...there are some things that are just best recorded in a private space, although really....who reads your blog anyway?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Tree of Knowledge Creation

It was very cool to do some creating with a graphic image for our partner project in CTL1799 this week. I think it turned out very well! This is a scanned image of a free hand drawing which was then coloured and text was added. I think this would be great to use with kids who could also scan in original art and add text to demonstrate their learning.

I had a chance to play around with some great software from Tech4Learning that I received at the premiere event of The Constructivist Consortium down in Atlanta this past June. This was done using Pixie, one of their drawing tools. There are a few others that I need to explore.

Sadly, it's rare that I have the time to re-visit some of the great resources that I gather in my teacher travels, certainly not because of ill-intentions, but mostly because I somehow don't make the time. We've been discussing Holistic approaches in class and the challenge of balancing time to explore with just getting everything done! It speaks to the value of having an exploration day, like the one Gary Stager organized for us at the Constructivist Consortium day...we need it as much as the kids do!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Putting the Learning Together

It's been an interesting week for me as my work on Social Networking for my group project is morphing into a study of Net Geners (born 1982-91) and the fascinating ways they are using technology and particularly what they would LIKE to be doing in schools. I'm finding this so exciting, because as it turns out we shouldn't be afraid of how kids want to use technology....in fact, they have the same goals as we educators!
Net Geners want:
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • self-directed learning
  • and more ways to construct and demonstrate knowledge.
What I've always believed to be the best learning approach then, project-based learning (PBL), is even more important today. PBL allows students to ask the really hard, important questions, to collaborate deeply, and to construct knowledge. Technology is a crucial part of making this learning more engaging, more interactive, faster, and more multi-modal and globally connected than ever before.

For more information on the Net Generation listen to this podcast.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fire team chats again

Today the fire group had our second online collaborative chat to plan our discussion moderating assignment, and I think that it went really well. We made our decisions and chose 5 questions which each of us will monitor throughout the week, summarizing our findings, and collecting urls and resources as the week progresses. I worry a little bit about having too many questions....will it be overwhelming for the class?

In addition to the daily moderating of the discussion I need to have my content for the group website ready for Wednesday, work with Denise on our partner reading, and do an interview for our group project on Wednesday. It will be a busy week!

It will be interesting to be participants in the partner activity this week as I think Selia is trying to create a task where we need to work through exactly what the article suggests! Although Denise and I are ahead of the game with developing social presence since we know each other from another course and have been chatting on the phone, the idea of working through negotiations to create a project is appealing to me. Of course, being a proponent of project-based learning, makes me a believer already!

I'm a bit concerned about my ability to design my own website. It seems to take forever for me to make decisions about how it should look, and I'm rather non-linear in my thinking, so I worry about it looking disjointed and jumping all over the place. I'm not confident in my artistic abilities, so I'm going to have to really browse around and learn from others. I'm also considering a narrower focus...perhaps just project-based learning and constructivist uses of technology is an better focus.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I love my group! We are chugging away like troupers and I couldn't ask for a greater bunch of ladies to work with!

I've had a breakthrough today and have to thank Deborah for an article she sent me that gives me the big picture on Holistic Education and I'll provide the link here when I get it.

Jack Miller the holistic ed guru at OISE describes the polarity in education; competition versus compassion. Holistic education is a broader vision of education and human development together, focusing on:
  • balance
  • inclusion
  • connection
Picture a complex set of sliders used for music mixing; there are so many sliders and the perfect music will be created with just the right balance on a lot of variables.

  • individual learning and group learning
  • analytic thinking and intuitive thinking
  • content and process
  • learning and assessment
  • collaborative learning and passive learning
  • exploration and guidance
The three foundational approaches to education (transmissive, transactional, and transformational) are not defended by holistic educators, but instead a balance between the approaches seems most suitable to meeting student needs.

It's a returning to the basics of what students need as human beings....do we want great test takers, or compassionate, mindful, healthy and socially responsible citizens?

Understanding this focus on connections will hopefully help with both discussion moderation next week and the group project on Community and Connections.

CTL 1799 Week 2 - Dog Paddling

We've done tons this week once again, including settling on a group project. My group will be creating a website project about Communities and Collaboration which I will later link here. We've decided to create a resource for teachers who might not be entirely too tech savvy as a way to enlighten them about how learners are using the web for learning, writing and sharing. I'm looking forward to my section on social networking.

For my independent project I'll do something that I've been wanting to do for quite sometime now....create my own website! This is exciting....the first decision is whether to use iweb or freeewebs. I've been giving that incredible amount of time this week and I have to get moving on it soon! This resource will document some of the work I've being doing in my graduate studies here at OISE as well as provide a location for professional endeavors.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

CTL 1799 Article Review #2

Clark, D., and Anderson, P. Beyond the Keyboard: Facilitating Authentic Learning Experiences in a Virtual World.


I chose this article because of my interest in constructivist applications using computers and project-based learning, both of which involve creating authentic learning experiences.

With the widespread appeal of new technological tools the authors begin by reminding us that human connection “is essential for learning, not just nice-to-have”, and follows with a review of the theoretical principles behind how we learn and then how this relates to online learning and the formation of communities of learners.
Four main principles are addressed:

“Knowledge exists in Community and is situated in specific contexts”.
The article refers to the work of Lave and Wenger and to the earlier work of Vygotsky in relating that learning takes place in a social context and that knowledge must be shared with others or applied to real life situations in order to be meaningful. Knowledge does not exist in isolation, inside our own heads.

“Knowledge resides in a DISCIPLINE, therefore effective teaching introduces learners to ways of thinking within the discipline”.
There is a relationship between novice and expert that must be nurtured in the learning environment. A community of more expert learners introduces a novice to the ways of thinking that are unique to the discipline and the implication here is that the instructor can be a participant in the learning community but that students can also learn from each other.

“Learning is SITUATED, therefore effective teaching provides authentic experiences by engaging learners in real problems”.
Context is an important determinant in how a learner will solve a problem and in order to gain expertise a novice needs to be provided with real problems within a variety of contexts in order to encourage the transfer of knowledge to other situations.

“REFLECTION is vital to deep learning, therefore effective teaching embraces reflective practice”.
Novices will become more expert in their thinking when they involve metacognition and begin to reflect upon how they are solving real problems, what kinds of unique thinking the discipline promotes, and they begin to develop an understanding of the challenges faced by experts within the discipline.

“The situated learner is ENGAGED, therefore effective teaching inspires deep learning”.
When learners are given an opportunity to work socially there is more of an opportunity to learn from experts in the solving of an authentic task. This creates engagement, and the authors explain that the deeper the engagement, the deeper the learning.
In reflecting upon these theoretical principles, the authors outline how they applied these theories to the creation of their online graduate courses in the area of social ecology, providing these suggestions:

  • instructors model ways of knowing unique to the discipline
  • instructors allow students to learn from each other
  • instructors establish a sense of community by allowing students to get to know each other as individuals (introductions, informal chat areas, open-endedness, modeling of formal and informal responses)
  • instructors create authentic projects – “real dilemmas”
  • instructors give students choice about what issues they may choose to study or discuss
  • instructors establish avenues for reflection and self-assessment about achieving expertise

Our course has begun quickly to embrace most, if not all of these recommendations and I will look forward to learning more about the discipline of holistic education as our collaborative and individual project ‘dilemmas’ emerge!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

CTL 1799 Article Review

Bliss, Anne and Heintzman, Anne, (2003). Problems and Solutions:Teaching with a Mobile Wireless Lab.

I chose to review this article because in my work with schools as a tech coach next year I will have access to wireless mobile labs that I can bring to classrooms for use in on-going literacy projects, and I’m interested in the problems and benefits of using them.

Bliss and Heintzman presented this conference paper based on studies of writing composition classes at the post-secondary level using wireless mobile labs (ranging from 1995 – 2002). Issues were presented in three areas: classroom, instructors and administration and I’d be interested to know whether any of you think that the benefits and challenges presented by Bliss and Heintzman are still relevant today.

Initially, both instructors and students perceive the time spent in the setup and putting away of the mobile lab to be the biggest concern in the classroom, seeming to take away from instructional time, however, this view generally changes after some experience with using the mobile lab. Instructors need to troubleshoot technical difficulties with the laptops, work through some internet connection issues, and teach students basic use (e.g. how to share files, submit their work, use the class website and make comments on the work of others) since students come with a variety of technical expertise with computers. It’s best if the instructor can get to class a bit early and start the setup with the lab, something that might be easier in K-12 classrooms than in post-secondary where time and travel between classes might be more of an issue. The authors found that setup and take down becomes easier and more automatic once students are trained in an organized and efficient way to handle the laptops, and as instructors become more experienced in finding a system that works well. During the time when students are booting up the computers and logging in, instructors can make good use of this time by making class announcements or asking about questions and concerns. Some students found this waiting time lengthy, while others liked that everything they needed was always right there; no forgotten books or papers.

Once instructors became experienced in teaching with the mobile lab, the authors found that the time spent dealing with laptops was not any longer than the time that instructors spend on the paper shuffle in the classroom. Far less time was needed to hand out, hand in, and organize paper; lost papers were eliminated, and absent students were easily informed of what they missed. Supporting students new to technology by covering the basic computer skills at the beginning of the course, using peer support to share skills, and making sure students understand the computer component of the course prior to registration is recommended.

Benefits of using mobile wireless labs in the classroom included

  • no lost papers
  • far less photocopying (papers are posted once on the class website)
  • no need to take attendance
  • a log of student participation is kept electronically
  • absent members can keep up with work
  • sharing and group work is more easily accomplished
  • no issues about illegible handwriting
  • student work and grading is visible to all therefore providing a transparency that benefits all

The prominent issue initially was trying to find the time for training on the new technologies to learn the new skills necessary to teach with the mobile lab. Once basic training of instructors occurred, there was a benefit in less time for future class preparation and enhanced teaching effectiveness. Once they learned how to set up a class electronically most instructors felt that it was an efficient way to keep students informed, make changes, and help absent students keep up, therefore less class time was used for announcements, it took less time to photocopy materials, and office hours were used more productively to help students. Adding technology to courses in small steps is recommended so that the learning curve for instructors is manageable over several semesters


Bliss and Heintzman indicate that security and maintenance are the primary administrative issues concerning the use of mobile labs. Usually many instructors and many students are using the same machines daily, therefore clear communication about difficulties, user changes, and technical difficulties are critical. Service for the laptops is required regularly and needs to be organized so that it doesn’t disrupt instructional time. The authors recommend that administration seek instructors who volunteer to teach with this technology rather than randomly assign it, since this will provide a more motivated cohesive group to solve the problems that may arise when starting with this new technology.

Friday, July 6, 2007

CTL 1799 Holistic Ed and Tech - Treading Water in the First Week

Whew! I've barely survived this first week, and it hasn't been easy. I haven't taken an intercession course online from OISE before and I should have known what I was in for, as the mere 6-week course brings online time to a whole new dimension! Not to mention the added stress of a job interview (successful! yahoo!) and finally getting my classroom all moved and put away (for July at least).

It was an exhilarating week getting to know our class of about 24; about 5 or so folks I recognize from other courses and many new classmates. We are using 3 CMC environments in this course, which is pretty overwhelming at the onset. Knowledge Forum, BlackBoard and OISENet for IM chats and mail.

The first three readings discussed separate but very complementary topics to get us started with an understanding of what we can expect with online learning and holistic education (there are a few students new to technology and online learning).

Dale Lugenbehl's article Personal Attachment to Beliefs suggested that we as teachers and learners we should question our attachment to beliefs and understand that this can have a negative impact on our ability to see other viewpoints and impact the time and energy we spend defending ideas. Lugenbehl suggests that non-attachment promotes a less competitive setting and a better inquiry model:
  • start with a question; a desire to know
  • collect and evaluate evidence on all sides
  • choose a belief based on the best possible information, understanding that upon reflection and new information this belief may change
Personally, after reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go There You Are this year, I found this article congruent with my beliefs about collaboration, exploration, and project-based inquiry, and very much related to Holistic Education, the topic of this course.

Mark Kassop's Ten Ways Online Education Matches, or Surpasses, Face-to-Face Learning, was a great review of the bonuses of OLE's and I'm in agreement 100 percent.
  • Student-centred learning
  • Writing Intensity
  • Highly interactive discussion
  • Geared to lifelong learning
  • Enriched course materials
  • On-demand interaction and support services
  • Immediate feedback
  • Flexibility
  • An intimate community of learners
  • Faculty development and rejuvenation
I can't comment as an instructor, or as a teacher of secondary school students, but certainly as a graduate student I'm a believer....granted a very tired, overwhelmed and stressed believer!