Professional Development: With a Little Help From My Friends

Stages of PLN adoption -

Stages of PLN adoption -

I laughed out loud when I saw this illustration by Jeff Utecht about professional learning networks. I am one of those people who gets carried away with the excitement of new learning. I can lose hours on the computer, following those “rabbit trails,” as my classmate, Shirley, calls them, as I move from one blog post or RSS feed or tweet to the next. I laughed even more when I read that Jeff, like me, has a spouse who reminds him that “PLNs are very powerful, but they are not all there is to life.”

As we discussed professional development in class this week, our discussion leader, Dawn, asked a challenging and important question: “How do we begin to support teachers’ pedagogical change?” We talked a lot about personal learning networks. I like David Kapuler’s description

A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a dedicated learning environment unique to each individual.  . . . this is a place where people create their own environment which helps them to grow/learn. This can be done in many different ways through collaborating, blogging, social networking, etc.  [The] goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability.

I began to think about my own change and growth over a 38 year career. How did I follow my passion? To paraphrase Fulghum, All I really need to know I didn’t learn in school. I learned it from colleagues, mentors, and friends. I had a personal learning network long before I ever heard the term, but of course I’ve been involved in many types of professional development.

Judi Harris wrote a  four-article series (all available online here) published in ISTE‘s Learning & Leading with Technology f(February – June/July, 2008.) She writes

Educational technology-related professional development (ETPD) can take many forms. It varies by:

  • general purposes and goals;
  • the specific learning objectives that ETPD sessions and programs address;
  • the curriculum content areas to which they are related;
  • the student grade levels for which the strategies and tools presented are appropriate;
  • the instructional approaches recommended;
  • the professional development models used to structure the ETPD sessions;
  • and the ways in which the professional development is evaluated and/or teacher learning is assessed.

I first encountered Judi Harris through the Telus Learning Connection, or . Her research and guidance helped shape this Alberta endavour, which is ‘organized in a “cascading” or “train-the-trainer” model, in which teacher-leaders participate, then provide ETPD for their peers’ (Harris, 2008). I remember being elated when I was chosen as a teacher-leader, thinking I would be given training in technology implementation. Turns out I was expected to deliver the training. Fortunately the collegial nature of the participants allowed me to learn on the job as I partnered with various mentors.

Another valuable professional development experience was collaborative learning, which Harris describes as “The most desired—but unfortunately, also one of the least frequently practiced—collaborative learning model is one in which teachers engage in classroom visits.” Our district instituted instructional walkthroughs  like these (thanks, Ruth) as a way of looking at teachers’ best practices in the classroom. Instead of bringing in outside experts who preached about the latest and greatest, we utilized the expertise in our own schools.

Teachers volunteered to be observed and a group of teachers, administrators, and central office staff spent a day at a school. They would visit 6-8 classrooms, observe for 10 minutes in each, and then discuss their observations. Next we began using professional development time to do this in our own school. We set up days where teachers and administrators would visit 6-8 classrooms where teachers would share a best practice.

These were incredibly popular pd days. Later teachers were given release time to do more observations. Lots of teachers volunteered  — the message was that every teacher is an expert in something. This practice built our school of 100 teachers into a pln. It also opened our principal’s eyes about some heretofore unacknowledged great teachers, and encouraged teachers to ask administrators into their classrooms.

Another major pd tool for me was the listservHere Peter Milbury describes how the incredible resource LM_NET (short for Library and Media Network), began in 1992, growing from 60 to over 10,000 members worldwide. Through this resource I was introduced to top library/information professionals, including Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Mike Eisenberg, Alice Yucht, Kathy Shrock, and many more. I felt like this tl commenting on VoiceThread, “Instead of feeling like the “only one” in my building, my PLN . . . reminds me that I’m part of a community.”

I learned more about being a tl from LM_NET than from any other single resource. I still subscribe today, and consider the members an essential part of my pln. A bonus is that, as Cathy Nelson describes, now I can follow their blogs via RSS feeds and keep up with the latest news of them on Twitter.

As teacher librarians we are asked to deliver pd to our staff. Harris reminds us that One Size Doesn’t Fit All. Guhlin advises us to Light the Flame, “to move from professional development as a special event  . . to a continuous flow of learning.” Ketterer (June/July 2008) offers “A Professional Development Menu,” with choices ranging from “whetting the appetite” – “Trainings: Focus on how to use a specific . . . application” to “the fuel to keep going,” a “common scheduled lunch focused around a tech teaching tip.”

 In “Coach, Nurture, or Nudge How Do You Learn Technology Best?” Ketterer (May, 2007) reminds us that teachers learners have a preferred style. You’ll recognize these people in your staff room.

  • Coaching Style learner – willing to take risks at integrating technology into their curriculum with support from a colleague they can trust—a “coach.”
  • Nurturing Style Learners want to be nurtured as they learn new technology skills.
  • Nudging Style Learners – often traditional teachers with big success in the “way things are;” skeptical about “where technology is going today.” They need to be gently pushed, prodded, and cajoled into learning how to integrate technology.

As you develop your own personal learning network (see Sue Waters’ wiki for even more tips), and help build and support the one in your school, I recommend to you this video from  Will Richardson, web 2.0 in schools guru. And I do hope you will make me part of your pln — I am @cjpeterso on Twitter. See you online!

References (Non-hyperlinked)

Ketterer, K. (June/July 2008). A Professional Development Menu. Learning & Leading with Technology, p.11.

Ketterer, K. (May 2007). Coach, nurture, or nudge: How do you learn technology best? Learning and Leading with Technology, p. 21.

So Who ARE These Digital Natives?

In his 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: A New Way to Look at Ourselves and Our Kids, Marc Prensky describes digital natives. He says, ‘Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.’ Prensky provides some other characteristics:

 Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work.

This slide show from PEW puts the concept of digital natives, born in 1990, in a historical context.


Prensky labels older people as digital immigrants and states that “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” Many people, including Kathy Shrock and Joyce Valenza, take issue with being labelled digital immigrants. Both Kathy and Joyce are “digital pioneers.” As Kathy says, “This group of users grew up as technology grew up. This group of users has mastered both the skills (learned from years of technology risk-taking and experimentation) and the processes (learned from the real world and the online world) of information literacy and choosing the correct tool for the task.”

 Of  course there must be more flavours than just natives and immigrants. In her article Not just digital natives & immigrants! Anne Collier says, “Digital immigrants/natives is a huge generalization: among other things, it fails to acknowledge how very individual media and tech use is for people of all ages.”

 I found some more labels for people in the digital landscape in an article titled Digital Denizens. I like these because they show that we all go through various stages in terms of integrating technology in our lives.

 * Digital recluse: use of technology is a result of the need to function in the current environment, not used by choice; computers are prohibited at home

* Digital refugee, unwillingly forced to use technology; prefers hard copies, does not trust electronic resources; seeks assistance; may have grown up with technology or adopted it as an adult

* Digital explorer, uses technology to push the envelope; seeks new tools that can do more and work both faster and easier

* Digital innovator, adapts and changes old tools for new tasks; creates new tools

* Digital addict, dependent on technology; will go through withdrawal when technology is not available

 So how do we close this gap? In The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide, Sharon Stoerger suggests that there are far too many variations, and that instead of focusing on the divide, we should consider a melting pot. “Instead of segregating individuals based on their skills or lack thereof, the digital melting pot is a place where all individuals, including those with low levels of competency, experience technology in a way that fosters opportunities without barriers.”

The whole idea of degrees and styles of involvement in the digital experience of course makes perfect sense, but I like the term “digital multiculturalism” (Collier cites Prof. Henry Jenkins) much better than “digital melting pot.” Melting pot seems to imply to me that we all have to end up one bland mixture. How about “digital tapestry”, where our individual talents, expertise, and creativity are woven together, and each individual strand is worthy in and of itself, but made stronger, more beautiful, and more useful as part of the splendid whole?

 Brain Research

 So are young people’s brain really so different from ours? I gained more insight into digital natives by watching Digital Nationon Frontline. What stood out for me:

a) not enough research has been done to determine the effect/efficacy of new technologies on and for learners and learning ( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain),
b) although the digital natives’ brains do seem to be wired differently, older people’s brains change in similar ways when they use technology( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain), and
c) students’ routinely over-estimate their skills and abilities to multi-task efficiently (Clifford Nassprofessor at Stanford University, director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab.)

In Digital Natives and Immigrants: What Brain Research Tells Us , Nancy K Herther cites Apostolos Georgopoulos, director of University of Minnesota Center for Cognitive Sciences. “There is absolutely no scientific basis for claiming that young people’s brains have changed in recent times or that there is such a major difference between the brain at different ages. There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to back up these claims. This is totally unfounded.”

We as teachers see that our students are young people and individuals no matter their level of “digitality,” and who better than trained teachers to work towards meeting their needs right now.

 Now What?

In “Who Are Today’s Learners?” (Learning & Leading with TechnologySeptember/October 2008) Christine Greenhow says, “As good teachers we always want to know who our students are and where they start from so that we can tap into, reinforce, build on, and extend their knowledge and experiences in learning new things.” She suggests we survey our students to find out their “out-of-school technology access, conditions, and use” and use strategies to “engage” (use technologies in creative and innovative ways) and “prepare” our students for the workplace where they will use social networking and other web 2.0 applications.

Certainly we can agree that our schools don’t all meet the needs of 21st century learners, and that we haven’t kept up with web 2.0 innovations. There are changes we can make now to remove the barriers blocking our progress. Some suggestions:

Lobby for changes:

  • Stop blocking access to YouTube and social media and web 2.0 sites
  • Change district-wide filtering so that sites needed by high school students aren’t blocked because they aren’t suitable for elementary students
  • Add appropriate technology and brain-research training for prospective teachers to teacher education programs (see March 2008 Learning & Leading with Technology: Hilary Goldmann – Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners)
  • Build in training time for current teachers
  • Fund – including evergreen funding—technology (Doug Johnson demonstrates 1 million+ tech $ saved in his district by moving to Google Apps)
  • Stop using labels that limit public perceptions – like digital immigrant
  • Encourage/enable/lead web 2.0 savvy teachers to mentor their peers
  • Survey students to find out their technology abilities, expertise, and shortfalls
  • Ask students how they think more technology can be integrated into your school/library/classes
  • Give Teens the Chance to Think for Themselves -Allow them opportunities to express themselves and share with a global audience
  • Have tech-savvy students create materials and lobby on your behalf, like Josh Porter 

We need to be vocal, focused leaders in our classrooms, our libraries, our administrators’ offices, our parent-teacher meetings, with our superintendents, and with our legislators to ensure the above are enacted.

If we need further inspiration, I’d like to close with 10 year-old Dalton Sherman. Do you believe?

Biblioburro and the 21st Century Library

Watch this video at Ayoka Productions

The Biblioburro

Every weekend, Luis Soriano, a primary teacher in La Gloria, Colombia, loads a collection of his own books into the “Biblioburro” pouches on his donkey’s back, and travels to remote villages to bring reading to children. Ayoka, the not-for-profit organization that filmed the Biblioburro video, provides some background information.

When Soriano was a child, his family fled local violence, moving to a city. Soriano not only found comfort in a library but had a teacher who encouraged him to read. When he became a teacher in his home town he discovered that most of his students couldn’t do their homework because they had no books at home, and so the Biblioburro was born.

He and his wife, Diana, have built (mostly by hand) La Gloria’s first public library, where he can at last display and circulate his entire collection of books.

So what does the Biblioburro have to do with a 21st century library, you ask? Aside from the obvious — many people know about the Biblioburro thanks to YouTube, and Twitter — there is food for thought here for teacher librarians looking at harnessing the power of Web 2.0 for their schools. I re-discovered the Biblioburro thanks to an LM_Net post that arrived as I was reading the rather intimidating issue of School Libraries Worldwide – Volume 14 Number 2, July 2008.

The Demands of the 21st Century Learner

The theme of this issue is New Learners, New Literacies, New Libraries. The issue explores the ramifications of web 2.0, and the urgency of the need for change to accommodate today’s learners. School librarians need to demonstrate leadership 21st century skills, or risk being left behind. In these days of budget cuts and standardized testing, revamping our practice, our libraries, and our schools is certainly not an easy task for most of us.

So what exactly is so intimidating? In his article Youth and their Virtual Networked Worlds: Research Findings and Implications for School Libraries, Ross Todd looks at the challenges posed by today’s students. He says, “Key challenges for school libraries relate to conceptualizing the school library as a knowledge commons, shifting instructional emphasis from information provision to knowledge development, and engaging the whole school community in appropriate pedagogical and policy decisions in relation to Web 2.0.” 

It isn’t enough just to use a few web 2.0 tools in the library; this is actually a dramatic shift involving one’s entire school. 

Why so urgent? Todd cites the research of Marc Prensky. ‘Marc Prensky, educator and developer of game technology for learning, claims that young people are powering down in schools–not just their devices, but their brains. He claims: “It’s their after‐school education, not their school education, that’s preparing our kids for their 21st century lives – and they know it. …When kids come to school, they leave behind the intellectual light of their everyday lives and walk into the darkness of the old ‐fashioned classroom” (Prensky, 2008, pp. 41, 42). In this brave new world of Web 2.0, the visionary, creative and learning centered leadership of school librarians can play a vital role in turning on the lights.’

So how do we go about turning on these lights? In another article in SLW, Towards School Library 2.0: An Overview of Social Software Tools for Teacher-Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and  Dean Giustini look at educationally useful web 2.0 tools, and how they can fundamentally alter the learning experience. ‘ʺWhen a studentʹs work is seen, and commented on, and collaboratively enhanced by a larger participative audience, students are drawn into extended educational ʹconversationsʹʺ (Hargadon, 2008).’

Another article giving extensive practical advice, and the most powerful article in this issue for me, is Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries, by Marlene Asselin and Ray Doiron. They develop a “proposed pedagogical framework for school library programs in a Learning 2.0 environment” by answering these questions: “(1) Who are the new learners of the Net Generation?; (2) What literacies do today’s students need to live and work in the world?; (3) How do we teach the new learners?” 

The article’s conclusion contains a call to action. “It is time to situate the new literacies of the real world in schools and make school libraries the bridge between in‐school and out‐of‐school literacies. “ It also identifies “actions necessary for libraries to advance these activities – studying today’s learners in order to develop meaningful user‐centered services and programs; engaging in a collaborative change process as a profession; embracing the need for immediate actions; taking risks; and accepting that learning will happen as you go.”

Other Practical Advice

Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians, a living, evolving, wiki, provides a blueprint for tls looking for specific ways to upgrade their practice. In every area of librarianship, ranging from Reading to the Digital School Library and the Information Landscape to Access, Equity, Advocacy to Digital Citizenship, and much more, the wiki provides specific, hyperlinked criteria for using web 2.0 to meet the needs of your stakeholders 24/7.

We must ground our efforts in the context in which we live. In their article Things That Keep Us Up at Night, Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson say, “Rather than creating a perfect library, we need to reshape our thinking and create the perfect library for our individual institution. . . . Teachers, administrators, parents, and students must demand the essential services we provide.”

And the Biblioburro?

I have felt rather overwhelmed by the fact that I have a ways to go to achieve 21st century librarian status, but when I look at what Luis Soriano has accomplished, I feel ashamed. If Luis Soriano can survive guerrilla warfare, displacement, and being held hostage by bandits to empower his students, then surely, with the expert assistance I’ve described, I can empower mine as a 21st century librarian.

I finish with this quote taken from the Ayoka site:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Blogs for Professional Development – The Willow

Last week we arrived home late in the afternoon after a brief rain storm, and as we got out of the car we saw our willow tree bathed in gold. My husband dashed in the house to get his camera, and took a dozen shots of it.

This beautiful tree is old, much older than our house, and an arborist with the city recently told us that it has the biggest trunk of any tree in Edmonton. It’s so big that it’s impossible to take a photograph of the whole tree. Its branches have been bent and broken by the wind, and shaped by many human hands over the years.

As I was planning this entry on blogs as professional development, it occurred to me that trying to capture the variety and breadth of blogs useful to teachers and teacher-librarians is like trying to photograph the intricate network of our tree. It’s just not possible to capture it all. What I’ve decided to do is take a few snapshots from different angles to share some of the power of the blog network.

How Blogs are Used

In Towards School Library 2.0: An Introduction to Social Software Tools for Teacher Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and Dean Giustini summarize the research on how blogs are being used in schools. Blogs can encourage

  • Online chat, debate and reflective practice.
  • Students to share their personal stories.
  • “Reading about other schools and their challenges, and what students and teachers are thinking, talking about and feeling.”
  • Reaching out to the community
  • Creating gathering places for professional development
  • “Providing a window into teaching”
  • Getting “information out to the public about teachers, and what they do.”
  • Sharing “information about current issues and practices of interest.”

Scott Leslie, an educational technology researcher and emerging technology analyst, and a prolific blogger himself, has created a matrix of uses for Web logs in education. These are divided into instructors and students reading and writing blogs. Among others, instructors’ uses include reading subject-specific blogs to keep up with current practice, and writing blogs as instruction for students or as networking with colleagues.

Tony Lowe has created a Drag and Drop version of the matrix to which you can add your own descriptors, a wonderful tool to use in a workshop on blogging with teachers.

In her eloquent article, Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, Anita Brooks Kirkland discusses the responsibility of teacher librarians in ensuring the early adoption of web 2.0 in schools. This includes using blogging.

“We need to learn about this huge movement, where we have access to the knowledge and opinions of anyone and everyone, and where the value of that information is assessed and ranked by the user community. If we are to remain the information specialists in our schools, we need to master this new media and understand where it fits into the broader information landscape. We need to become Teacher-Librarian 2.0 to help provide context for our Web 2.0 students.”

Kirkland goes on to provide four ways to get up-to-date:

  • Explore: Teacher-librarians must “Subscribe to, and follow the blogs of leading thinkers in the school library world and the wider library world to engage in the conversation about these issues.” She provides a list of some of these.
  • Exploit professional learning opportunities: “More and more professional learning opportunities are accessible to us when and where we need them, especially where face-to-face learning is inaccessible.” Many conferences now are offered online and/or are blogged as they occur and afterwards.
  • Consider the implications: “We need to engage in professional conversation about these issues and collaborate on developing the solutions.” Reading, writing, and commenting on blogs are ways to participate in these discussions.
  • Engage: It is essential that t-ls learn about and daily use the new technologies, including blogging, to support their programs.

Finding Blogs for Teachers

There are many ways to find useful blogs, in addition to searching, not including using Google blog search. These include checking the blog rolls, or lists of blogs, on blogs written by people you respect and whose work you follow. You can also find blogs on web sites such as Edutopia and Education World, or on sites for professional journals such as Teacher Magazine. Conferences often have blogs as part of their web sites, such as the recent K-12 Online Conference.

The Edublog Awards provides a wide assortment of blog links, giving 15 awards, including 7 different types of educational blogs.

  • Best individual blog
  • Best group blog
  • Best resource sharing blog
  • Best teacher blog
  • Best librarian / library blog
  • Best educational tech support blog
  • Best elearning / corporate education blog

In addition to the seven listed above, The Edublog Awards are presented in these categories, providing even more possibilities for professional development:

  • Best new blog
  • Most influential blog post
  • Best educational use of audio
  • Best educational use of video / visual
  • Best educational wiki
  • Best educational use of a social networking service
  • Best educational use of a virtual world

While the 2008 winners have not yet been announced, you can view the 2007 winners as well as the top nominees. You can also look back at previous winners. Here is a plethora of educators writing about all aspects of education, from the district administrators’ standpoint to the university academician to the classroom teacher to the teacher librarian, and all areas in between. In addition, in the Awards blog you can find blogs that people think should have been nominated but weren’t.

Finding Blogs for Teacher Librarians

Naslund and Giustini suggest that “A good place for teacher librarians who want to explore blogs is Alice Yucht’s EduBiblioBlog List which identifies over 50 library media-related blogs divided by category: kidlit blogs, young adult lit blogs, school library blogs, infolit blogs, edtech blogs, library land blogs and association blogs. Many of these blogs are created for teacher librarian associations while others are written by teachers who share their views about school library issues, children’s and young adult literature.”

Impact as A 21st-Century Library Media Specialist, by Peggy Milam Creighton, discusses many expert professionals in the field. This article is a superb source of information about how these “exemplary library media specialists” work to improve their practice and share their expertise. Check the many links to find blogs (as well as other resources such as wikis and nings) created by these movers and shakers.

Professional Blogs to Explore, from Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, by Anita Brooks Kirkland, provides a good beginner’s list of blogs:

Blogs about school library programs:

Blogs from the wider world of libraries:

Finding My Blogs

The most useful resource for me as a teacher librarian has been the list serv LM_Net, (read Doug Johnson’s post on LM_Net here – he calls it the “original Read/Write web”) which has been graced over the years by postings from Peter Milbury, Mike Eisenberg Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Shonda Brisco, Barbara Braxton, Gary Price, and many, many others. When I began to look for blogs to follow, I started with looking for blogs by these experts I already knew. Then I looked at the blogs they read, and expanded my repertoire.

Of course our instructor, Joyce de Groot, and Will Richardson, author of our textbook, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, have expanded my horizons exponentially. In addition, a major joy of taking the Web 2.0 course is the wealth of new material – and new-to-me blogs – shared by my classmates. Thank you to you all for this! You can see a selected list of the 40+ blogs I follow below, and in the blog roll to the left of this post.


Personalize Your Overload: RSS and Blog Aggregators

As I was thinking about this week’s post on using RSS feeds and aggregators, I kept coming back to the same idea: information overload. Since I first investigated using RSS feeds early in October, and then began using Diigo, I have become more efficient in terms of finding and storing information. I still experience overload. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Or is it a necessary part of learning in the 21st century?

Stephen Downes recently commented on a post by Teemu Arina that seems to support the idea of overload as “a good thing.”

“This is exactly why those people who use RSS readers to scan through thousands of feeds, read blog posts from various decentrally connected sources and who engage themselves into assembling multiple unrelated sources of information into one (probing connections between them) have much greater ability to sense and respond to changing conditions in increasingly complex environments than those who read only the major newspapers, watch only the major news networks and don’t put themselves into a difficult situation of being hammered with a lot of stuff at once.” [Emphasis is mine.]


In his post Arina goes on to say that although information overload makes you anxious, it gives you the opportunity to see patterns develop and form connections.

This idea brings me back to the importance of refining and personalizing the information I expose myself to. I am beginning to think that RSS feeds and aggregators are the essential tool of Web 2.0 and 21st century learning, and 10 weeks ago I didn’t even know what they were! I think back to my 100+ colleagues, and the 2000+ studentsin my high school, and I wonder if any of them are using these even now.

In his August 27, 2008 post, Don’t underestimate the importance of the aggregator, Doug Johnson comments on his epiphany regarding RSS feed aggregators. He, like most of us, began with collecting blogs. He says, “Given most educators’ time constraints, finding updated information from lots of blogs in a single fast and convenient location is essential if blogs are to actually be used as a PLN [personal learning network] resource on a regular basis.”

Johnson lists several other uses, including Google News searches, and “reputation monitoring.” He set up feeds to monitor Delicious and Technorati to see who has commented on or bookmarked his posts. Cool idea! Perhaps some day I’ll have made enough Footprints in the Digital Age (Will Richardson’s article) that I’ll need to do this!

One comment on this post resonated with me. Miguel Guhlin said, “Our teachers suffer the tyranny of visiting web sites with no time to do it, much less reflect on the content. With an RSS aggregator, they are free to visit once and the learning opportunities come to them. What a deal!”

Yes, and another great deal is that through a link to Johnson’s The top 10 things you should know about RSS feed aggregators I discovered his wiki, where he post resources from his workshops.

If I’m going to be hammered by information, I want it to be information I choose. In Bringing the World to My Doorstep: A Teacher’s Blog-Reading Habits – National Writing Project, Kevin Hodgson says he reads 500 blogs (!) every night, impossible without his RSS feed generator. Hsis article, well worth reading as a whole, discusses various blogs that have influenced his learning. He says, ‘The kind of “reading” of blogs that I did which led me to the Darfur project-sometimes called “hyper-reading” or “social media literacy”-is becoming more common among young learners, and it may be an emerging skill of the information age. It’s termed “hyper-reading” because reading a stream of online text often forces the viewer to move through hyperlinks. The reader may never return to the original document-it can be an unsettling experience for some of us who are used to sustained reading of one text.’

Hodgson references Chris Heuer, who in Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and RSS – The 4 R’s suggests that RSS could be ‘the fourth “R” in our conception of literacy.’

Heuer says, “This is one of the key elements that make Social Media literacy different. I could describe it in many other ways, but within this context the important aspect for me is that understanding how RSS and by extension tags, work. It enables any individual to step into the conversational flow – to not only follow what other people are communicating, but ensuring what the individual has to communicate is heard by other people who care about the topic.”

So now I’m even more convinced that RSS feeds can help me effectively manage information overload. How might I use them with students? With colleagues?

Using RSS with Students

In Bandwidth Backup: Saving Students Time Online, Chris O’Neal suggests that when your students log in within the school, if their default school home page is the typical public-face-of the-school-for-the-community-and-parents one, change it to one “immediately useful to your students.” While I was unable to do this in my library last year due to administrative rules, the idea seems so obvious that I have already emailed my replacement teacher-librarian and our computer tech to suggest ways of doing this, and to volunteer lobbying aid on their behalf.

Joyve Valenza has given me some ideas on what might really be useful as a start page, and she of course includes RSS feeds. Dennis O’Connor posted an interview with her on The Keyword Blog: Joyce Valenza -21st Century Research Skills!

‘How can we help our students create their own meaningful information spaces to support their work as learners? I think we may need to guide them to widgetizing their personal desktops. This year we asked our seniors to use iGoogle as a tool to organize their senior projects. I see more tools like that emerging. Now students can open an interface and be presented with their favorite online dictionary, foreign language tools, mapping tool, thesaurus, calendar, to-do list, while they push research-relevant RSS feeds to them through a reader. They choose their theme. Their little game applets are there too. This was perhaps the “stickiest” activity they’ve done yet this school year. The spaces continue to grow more personally meaningful.’

This would work beautifully with various groups of students in my school. Our International Baccalaureate students write various essays on individual research topics, including extended essays, internal assessments, and a world literature paper. They could create an iGoogle page that could be adapted for each assignment, including shifting links from our various online databases and E-Books, as well as RSS feeds for Google alerts for searches on their individual topics, and much more.

In various posts on her blog, NeverEndingSearch, Joyce Valenza discusses using iGoogle (Creating 2.0-style textbooks?) to have students create their own and shared content, as well as using PageFlakes (PageFlakes as Current Events Pathfinders) to create start pages with common content. She shares samples at Each page contains a variety of RSS feeds that pull content appropriate to the page, as well as links to associated library resources. Click on the tabs at the top of the page to see the five different pages. Joyve has shared.

In terms of the overload concept, Richard Byrne makes an excellent point in 34 ways to use RSS, the November 12, 2008, post on the amazing Free Technology for Teachers blog. He suggests that students track content through feeds in an RSS reader rather than going to the actual web sites, as there will be fewer distractions from advertising using a reader. Now that’s cutting back on the hammering!

Using RSS with Teachers

Much of what I can do with students I would also do with my colleagues. But there’s so much more. As I write, I keep thinking how I used to hammer my teachers with email. I was very proud that I was keeping them up-to-date with curriculum-related resources targeted to the units they were teaching. Last year I created a wiki of web resources for our science teachers and was emailing them when I added sites. How much easier for them and for me if I showed them how to save an RSS feed for the page. That way those who are interested will get the content they want and everyone’s’ inbox is lightened!

Another amazing wiki, WebTools4u2use, has a plethora of tips and suggestion for using RSS. I must admit I had never thought of subscribing to the hundreds of electronic journals with RSS feeds. Another suggestion is to add feeds from your public library to your library web site; to this blog I added a feed from the Coutts Education Library at my own University of Alberta (it’s in the left tool bar).

WebTools4u2use also links to Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Library in Coquitlam, BC, as an exemplar of the use of RSS feeds in education. I would use the library’s page NEWS FOR THE CLASSROOM in an in-service with my staff on using RSS with students. The page not only provides links to news feeds in 15 different subject areas, but the page itself (an every page on the web site) has its own feed. Talk about an impressive library web site!

What’s Next for Me

Robin T. Williams and David Loertscher have a new-to-me book: In Command! Kids and Teens Build and Manage Their Own Information Spaces, And…Learning to Manage Themselves in Those Spaces. From the LMC Source description: ‘This book and accompanying website takes a new approach in the battle to capture the attention and serve student needs. . . . It asks each child and teen to construct their own home page using iGoogle, and construct three sections of their own information space. The time has come to offer young people a gift of a lifetime – control over the voices clamouring for their attention and the tools they need to emerge as truly information literates.”

Sounds like someone else is working on personalizing our information overload. This looks like required reading to me. How about you?

This Week’s Road Trip – Social Bookmarking

Ford Focus Commercial

Packing the Car

Why start with a car commercial, you ask? Ever had one of those “Ah hah!” moments of revelation when the layers of your brain finally slid into place, and you found yourself wondering how you could have been so stupid? Would you believe I had one of those moments while I watched this Ford Focus commercial on TV?

It is sad but true – or really neat depending on your perspective – but I finally “got” tagging when I saw this commercial. To me this is the ultimate demonstration of the pull technology that is the Web 2.0 culture: the car buyer pulls all of the options he wasn’t out of the tag cloud surrounding him.

This integration of the concept of tagging gave me the mental set I needed to try out social bookmarking this week. And I love it!

First Stop:

I began by looking for video tutorials about social bookmarking. First of all I watched the Common Craft video, Social Bookmarking in Plain English, which uses  as its example site.  Lee Lefever’s simple three steps, signing up to a service, tagging sites, and “being social” by looking at other people’s bookmarks, gave me the confidence to explore further. After all, I had already used Backflip as a way of storing bookmarks on the Internet. Now I just needed to add the tagging component. I decided to start using

After I added my personal bookmarks I decided to experiment with the social aspect. I searched for tags having to do with crochet, and by adding and deleting tags was able to collect bookmarks dealing with crocheted afghan patterns. Remembering my RSS lessons from last week, I decided to add a feed for this collection to Bloglines.

Next Stop: Diigo

I knew that I also wanted to explore Diigo, so I searched YouTube and TeacherTube and found Emily Barney’s video, “Social Bookmarking: Making the Web Work for You.” This gives a wonderfully clear explanation of how social bookmarking works, and then goes on to explain how to use Diigo.  

If I were working on showing teachers how to do social bookmarking, I would use all three of these videos as part of the training (but of course not all at once).

Pit Stops on the Journey

This past week I

  • Set up accounts for Diigo,, and Furl
  • Installed the toolbar for Furl but had to uninstall it as my computer kept hanging and crashing. I decided to just experiment with the other two applications
  • Imported bookmarks from both my computers to both those accounts
  • Exported the bookmarks from both accounts and imported these into the other
  • Set up Diigo account so that new bookmarks are also automatically added to
  • Added email contacts to Diigo
  • Searched for other users’ bookmarks on crochet afghan patterns by using tags
  • Created a RSS feed for Diigo for crochet afghan patterns
  • Found Will Richardson on Diigo and looked at some of his bookmarks
  • Found Joyce Valenza on Diigo and subscribed to a feed from the Teacher Librarian group she belongs to
  • Investigated educator accounts on Diigo – I can’t join as I don’t have a school email address at the moment
  • Created WebSlides of some of the sites on social bookmarking I collected (see right sidebar).

Deciding Which Route to Take

Each of the sites I investigated has its pros and cons.

  • I found easier to use, as it has a simpler, cleaner interface and it seems more intuitive to me, and easier to navigate.
  • I love the fact that it is as free of ads.
  • The Help pages are easier to navigate than Diigo.


  • All the ads in Diigo definitely slow down search results and navigating pages.
  • Diigo has more features; the highlighting and commenting features are really valuable.
  • I can easily add contacts from my email address book in which I can’t do on – very useful when you want to email colleagues your bookmarks.
  • This is the fully-featured site I’d want to teach students how to use, especially since you can create an educator account.

Some Bumps in the Road

1. Information Literacy – Critical Evaluation

In his “Social Bookmarking” chapter in the book, Coming Of Age: An Introduction To The NEW Worldwide Web, Terry Freedman identifies one critical concern. He says, “There are downsides, [to using social bookmarking] of course. The main one is the flip side of the coin, that is to say, if looking for information is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, what social bookmarking does is to increase the size of the haystack! That is not an argument for not using it, but it is an argument for making sure that students are taught good information-searching skills, including the ability to evaluate the plausibility and accuracy of the information they find.”

2. Issues with Tags  

Freedman also points out an inherent problem with tagging: ‘A good example is “e-learning”: it would be a good idea to use “elearning” too!”‘

Tagging requires the use of only use single words, so you have to join words in phrases, such as socialbookmarking or social_bookmarking. In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Richardson states that “tags that are more than one word usually use an underline to separate the words” (p. 96).

Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case. There is no standardization except what individual users, groups, or communities decide on. One would need to work on this with students or teachers in order to standardize tags. When I was searching for crochet patterns in, for example, I discovered that I could use the tag “patterns” and get results containing the tag “pattern,” but not vice versa.

Spelling counts too. I found plenty of bookmarks with the word “socail” as one of the tags.

3. Issues with Filtered Sites and Downloading of Toolbars

Many school districts restrict the downloading of toolbars and buttons; in my high school students were unable to download anything on to the computers, including bookmarking sites. As part of an initiative for using these resources, teachers would have to work with their administration and technicians to overcome these issues.

4. Privacy Issues

As with all public web sites, the possibility exists that students will encounter some inappropriate content. The Diigo Educator Account provides some safeguards to students. Only teachers and classmates can communicate with students. Ads presented to student account users are limited to education-related sponsors. Students can only communicate with their friends and teachers, and their profiles aren’t included in the People Search feature.

Reasons To make the Journey

Miguel Guhlin’s article “Diigo the Web for Education – From TeleGatherer to TelePlanter with Diigo” gives an eloquent explanation of why social bookmarking tools are so important for our students. Guhlin says,”New web tools allow you to do MORE than just gather great resources; they allow you to explain why they are great, put virtual post-its on them, and then share that care package of great resource links with your comments with your audience of choice.”

Guhlin goes on to quote Dr. Judi Harris:

  • 1. We all begin on the Web by “telegathering” (surfing) and “telehunting” (searching. This we can do pretty well. What we don’t do very well yet is to take educationally sound steps beyond telegathering and telehunting).
  • 2. We need to help our students and ourselves “teleharvest” (sift through, cogitate, comprehend, etc.) the information that we find, and “telepackage” the knowledge that results from active interaction (application, synthesis, evaluation, etc.) with the information.
  • 3. Then, we need to “teleplant” (telepublish, telecollaborate, etc.) these telepackages by sharing them with others…who use them as information in their…
  • 4. …telegathering & telehunting, and the process cycles back around again.

Are you helping your students make the shift from surfing and searching as telegatherers to becoming teleplanters? [Emphasis is mine]

The End (Not) of My Journey

The mind boggles. I could tear down my whole library web page, the Web 1.0 page, the Read Web page, and start again. Shortly the grade 10 students in my former school will be starting their Shakespeare research project. I am itching to work with a class. Students can use Diigo to collect, highlight, annotate, and tag resources on their topics, which include the Shakespeare controversy, the Elizabethan theatre, the Great Chain of Being, William Shakespeare the man, Elizabeth I, the plague, the Spanish Armada, and more. Instead of the page for this project I created, students can contribute what they have found while their teacher and I provide guidance and support. We can teach evaluation and critical thinking skills, building this in as a stage in the project.

And our students become teleplanters.

Did I mention I LOVED working on social bookmarking this week?

Online Identity: Putting Yourself “Out There”

When thinking about the topic “Creating a visual presence in your own ‘little’ places on the web,” one area of concern I thought about was creating an online identity. The question I want to consider is this: How much of myself do I want to put ‘out there’ on the web? As a way of limiting the topic, I’m restricting my response to blogging.

When I began building the blog for this course, I started out thinking that I should strictly limit any personal information or even personality in my blog. I built a Voki avatar to use instead of using a photo of myself. I avoided using my name in the URL. My original posts were short and, I thought, to the point; in other words, really boring. Then I began to read blogs, and about blogs.

First I read Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom Use. Richardson suggests that teachers create their own blogs and make them public.

Be a public blogger. Put your name on your work, but make sure you understand the ramifications of doing so. . . . Public writing demands discretion, especially in an educational setting. And remember too that what you write stays with you. Each post contributes to your online portfolio that may turn up in future Google searches (p. 45).

Hmm, yes – discretion. This reinforces that I should be careful what I put out there. The comment about “public writing” stayed with me. I came across that idea again in a blog entry by Doug Johnson titled How – the importance of conduct. Johnson blogs about Thomas Friedman’s review of Dov Seidman`s book How.

And Seidman’s book, Friedman writes, is about how one’s reputation in life is going “to get set in stone so much earlier.” It’s “a digital fingerprint that never gets erased” and that second chances will be harder to come by when your resume may play second fiddle to a Google search about you. That the only way to succeed is to get your how‘s right –  how you live your life and how you conduct your business. And do it early in life.

Obviously I know that I have to be discreet about what I write in each page and post, but this article made me look carefully at what else I had put on my blog.

I love quotes, and was excited when I discovered that I could add a quote widget. However, I got rid of the first one I used, a widget called Quotes4All because a couple of the quotes were a little more suggestive than I was comfortable with. While I found them funny, I wouldn`t have shared them in a professional context at school, so I decided not to share them on my blog.

Laurel Papworth, an Australian consultant and lecturer about the social web, talks about how one`s reputation influences trust. While the post Laurel Papworth -Social Networks: Twitter: Reputation Management in Social Networks discusses Twitter, I think her model applies to blogs too.

The quick and dirty version:
We create a Profile (My Account) on a site, we make friends and add applications and groups and events to define Identity. We interact over time, offering content and comments and ratings which gains us a Reputation. That Reputation is then turned into a Trust factor – we decide how trustworthy a social network member is by the way they fill out their profile, by the connections they make, and by the content they submit, all of which is over time, which is why Social Media is a long term engagement.

She has posted this diagram on Flickr. Note she mentions choice of widgets under Identity!

Laurel Papworth - Social Web Reputation Management Cycles
As I continued my exploration for information about to identify myself in the blogosphere, I searched for blogs to add to my Bloglines account. I saw not only how the “experts” were crafting their entries, but how their personalities and some personal information were revealed. Will Richardson mentions his son, Tucker. Joyce Valenza`s very funny post My condo for a paper clip: or the effect of Kindle freeze on one particular vacationer shares some insights about her family and her foibles. Doug Johnson`s Blue Skunk Blog is frequently funny and personally revealing, as when he describes his ill-fated Alaska adventure.

I also found two excellent postings by Stephen Downes about how to create effective blogs. Both discuss the importance of establishing a clear identity. In Seven Habits of Highly Connected People, the seventh habit is Be Yourself.

The idea behind “being yourself” is not that you have some sort of offline life (though you may). Rather, it’s a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life, and that it is important that these facets are all represented and work together.

In another post, How To Be Heard, Downes discusses many strategies for getting your blog read and taken seriously. In the section, Your Blog Is Your Identity, he suggests several ideas, including using your name in your URL, adding your blog address wherever you put your name, putting your blog address on your business cards and as part of your email signature, and makes this final point:

And don’t forget: put your name on your blog. Blog posts that cannot be attributed are much less likely to be cited by anyone (and if they’re not cited, they’re not read).

I`m not ashamed to admit that I really knew nothing about establishing online identity in my blog. How have I changed it as a result of my reading and reflection?

  • I`ve used my name in the URL.
  • I`ve added some humour (hopefully).
  • I used my own photo instead of an avatar.
  • I added personal information (my love for Scotland), and used some photos I took there.
  • I`ve worked on developing a distinct and personal voice in my blog entries.

I know I have a lot to learn about personal online identity on the web, but at least now I know that I didn`t know!