Copyright or Copywrong?

 “If you’re not feeling disrupted or challenged about your teaching practice right now, you’re not paying attention.” Will Richardson (as quoted by Rodd Lucier)





This week I’ve been paying attention to copyright, intellectual freedom, intellectual property, fair dealing, and digital citizenship, and how they apply to our remixed, mashed-up world. Up to this point I thought I knew all about copyright. Turns out I didn’t.

I am the only teacher librarian I know with an intellectual property lawyer on retainer. My husband is a professional photographer who photographed Wayne Gretzky’s early years with the Oilers, as well as Princess Diana, Pierre Trudeau, and many others. He’s had extensive experience with copyright infringement, and counts on the law, and our able lawyer, to protect his livelihood.

I had no hesitation whatever about advising teachers about copyright law. When I started at my last school, one of the first teachers I met asked me to dub some videotapes for him. I asked if they were copyrighted (they were), and he looked at me as if I had two heads. Turns out dubbing was standard practice at this school, and the tl had always done it.

I asked the principal about this, and her response was unequivocal: no more illegal copying. I became known as the copyright cop, and I was proud it. I researched what was/ wasn’t legal, shared the information with teachers, took the initiative to apply for permissions for using various resources, and tried to make sure our teachers were protected but still got the resources they needed. I helped students get permission as required to use material found on the Internet, steered them to freely available content, and taught them to cite and paraphrase properly.

Today all of this is totally inadequate – as antique as this ad.

copyright pirates

Ioan Sameli




From Cop to Counselor on Copyright

Doug Johnson’s title above (and his related articles (Beating the No U Turn Syndrome, Creative Commons), gave me the clue to the remix in the library. Johnson tells us that we must ‘re-brand ourselves, “copyright counselors” and do what good counselors have always done – help othersreach good decisions about their actions rather than serve in a judgmental role.’

It is not our job to enforce policies, or report copyright infringements.  It is our job to model appropriate behaviour, refuse to do anything we deem illegal and explain why, and enable others by encouraging the use of creative commons-licensed, public domain, and royalty-free sources.

It is also our job to encourage students to look at copyright from the creator’s viewpoint by encouraging them to apply creative commons licenses to their own creations. Johnson says, “While today’s students want to use others’ digital works, often without regard to the legal protections they may carry, many of these students’ own creative efforts will be the source of their incomes and they will need a means of protecting their own work and want others to respect intellectual property laws.”

In order to do these jobs there are essential concepts about being consumers and producers of content that we must share with colleagues and students.

Digital Citizenship

Part of this new mind set is teaching the responsible use of technology. Mike Ribble describes nine elements of digital citizenship, which “set the stage for how we work with each other in a global, digital society.” Two of these elements deal with intellectual property. We must ask, “Are users aware of laws (rules, policies) that govern the use of digital technologies? (digital law).  “Are users ready to protect the rights of others to defend their own digital rights?” (digital rights and responsibilities).

Too often students are very unclear about content found on the World Wide Web. Chou (et al., 2007) found that high school and college students had three misconceptions about cyber copyright laws:  Internet content is entirely open for the public to use; the Internet is always free; and all educational use is fair use. Specific instruction about cyber copyright and cyber ethics is needed to change these attitudes.

Does instruction make a difference? Janesko and Morris (2008) found that when appropriate behaviour is modelled, and copyright instruction is built into the curriculum, that students do indeed “get it.”

Copyright Basics – What Some Teachers Don’t Know

It’s not just students that have misconceptions. The term “fair use” is often used to describe how content may be used in a classroom. Teachers must understand that “fair use,” part of American law, does not apply in Canada. Instead we must follow “fair dealing,” which is much more restrictive.  Copyright Law – What is “fair dealing”/”fair use”? explains the difference. Fair dealing allows use of copyrighted material only in certain very limited areas, including private study, research, criticism, review and news reporting. Michael Geist, law professor and expert on Internet and intellectual property law issues, states that there are many common activities that are not strictly permitted under Canadian copyright law, which gives no protection for parody or satire, teaching; recording television shows, backing up a DVD, format shifting from a DVD to video player, or transferring music from a CD to an iPod.

Creative Commons

A new copyright permissions system opens up vast free resources that we can use legally. But creative commons does more. Rod Lucier shares 14 tools to Teach About Creative Commons. “Besides providing access to hundreds of thousands of media works that can be used to augment the creative process, the Creative Commons offers a legitimate way for students to license their own creative works, be they audio, video, text or hybrid products.” Watch this video to learn more. Then scroll down to see Lucier’s take on what every educator should know about creative commons.



View more presentations from Rodd Lucier.

References (non-hyperlinked)

Chou, C., Pei-Shan Chan, & Huan-Chueh Wu. (2007). Using a two-tier test to assess students’ understanding and alternative conceptions of cyber copyright laws. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(6), 1072-1084.

Janesko, J. and Morris, T. (May 2008). Learning and Leading with Technology. “Do Students Respect Intellectual Property?”


Internet Filtering – I’m Hopping Mad!


Scott McLeod - CC Attibution 2.0 Generic

Does this picture remind you of how your administration treats its teachers?

Do you see internet filtering as indiscriminate censorship and a challenge to intellectual freedom?

Yes? Then don’t just vent – understand the issues, get busy, and make change happen.

 Time to Act

When it comes to internet filtering in the district where I taught for 38 years, and where my grandson will attend school, “I’m Mad and I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore,” to quote Mary Ann Bell. Internet filtering in my local school district does not work as it should. Bell  (2008) provides a clear call to action for those fed up with the problems filtering causes teachers and students. She says, “It is time to move past fear mongering and paranoia as guides to internet access in schools.”

Of course this isn’t just a local problem. Cathy Nelson says, “I think the biggest problem at hand is complacency among educators in general. This IS an issue of intellectual freedom. Rights are being infringed here.”

Buffy Hamilton agrees, “I get so frustrated when people complain about the filter issues but then take no constructive action to educate the decision makers about the resources we want unblocked.”

 Can we eliminate filters?

Finnish schools don’t have any; instead they teach responsible use of the internet. “Over there, thanks to solid teaching, the filters are in the students’ heads. Ultimately, that’s where we need to be too.” (Weinstock, 2008; Villano, 2008)

We are nowhere near that point in Alberta, where teacher librarians are almost extinct, teachers have to push students through curricula to pass provincial exams, and we have no mandated curriculum in internet literacy. We can’t get rid of filtering altogether.

Here I agree with Nancy Willard. “There are certainly some benefits from the use of filtering software — if, and only if, filtering companies are not blocking based on viewpoint discrimination, and if educators have the ability and authority to promptly override the filter to access and review any blocked site and to provide access to students when appropriate.”

What Makes Me Hopping Mad?

How about the deceit that internet filtering promotes or tacitly condones in students and some staff? To illustrate:

  • 2¢ Worth » Filters Work – “when [teachers are] asked about getting around the government-required filters, to conduct  . . . research required to find . . . resources, a frequent response is, “I have no idea.” The next most-common response: I have no idea, but when I need to get to a blocked site, I ask a student for help.”
  • From Patrolling web 2.0: “despite the presence of an internet filtering solution, more than 150,000 attempted visits to MySpace were made.
  • To see just a small slice of the rampant bravado of the avoid-the-filter attitude, go to Google, YouTube, Facebook, or Wikihow and search “bypass internet filter.”

This situation reminds me of what Admiral Mike Mullen said to the senate about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell American military policy. “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Shouldn’t our policy makers be troubled by a policy that encourages or tacitly condones our teachers and students to break the rules? Don’t misunderstand me — I am not excusing their behaviour. But I agree with Doug Belshaw: “I want clear policies whereby both staff and students know where they stand when it comes to internet access and filtering. As far as I’m concerned, resources should be available for teaching and learning unless a clear case can be made otherwise.”

We need to find a way to protect students without interfering with our teachers’ right to teach and our students’ right to learn. And I don’t think internet filtering as it now exists is the solution. To echo Will Richardson, there is too much “don’t” and not enough “do” going on, and definitely not enough teaching about responsible internet use.

What’s broken?

I’ve identified issues from my own experience, from my reading, and from my conversation with some of my colleagues. Some of the fixes are self-evident. 

  • Teachers don’t know what the filtering policies are, who is in charge of them, or how to request blocking or unblocking of sites.
  • Students, especially at high school, have no input into internet filtering.
  • Filtering increases the divide between students who have access to computers at home, and those who don’t
  • So many sites have YouTube feeds that it is becoming an essential resource (Ross, email communication, 2010)
  • Poor acceptable use policies don’t support responsible use (Media Awareness Network)
  • No consistency in which sites are blocked in which schools on which day (Filters and other annoyances)
  • Lack of bypass rights (Bell, 2006)
  • Time taken to get sites unblocked (Bell, 2006, Filters and other annoyances)
  • No consistent provincial policy, like Nova Scotia has
  • Teachers don’t have time to teach internet skills (Pam’s comment)
  • Social networking sites are routinely blocked (Any interactive website is poison)
  • Sites are blocked because of their format, not content (Format Bigotry)
  • Sites are blocked due to social/political content, e.g., Gay, lesbian, pro-choice (Bell, 2006)
  • Inconsistent filtering makes teachers look inadequate, ill-informed (Bell, 2008).
  • Filtering gives false sense of security, so monitoring/educating don’t happen (Willard)
  • Need to discuss policies as a staff, review, update them regularly as circumstances change (Carla’s comment)
  • Teens need “bystander strategies” to provide effective peer guidance. (Willard)

So how do we effect change?

I urge you to view Buffy Hamilton’s slideshow below, and to visit Fighting the Filter. She provides some common sense ways for tls (and teachers) to assert our professionalism in filtering issues. After all, Hamilton says, “If our goal is for students to be information fluent learners, we must have access to the tools so that students can ultimately act as their own filter.” As a retired teacher librarian, I’m going to start asking questions, writing letters, and advocating for change.

By the time my grandson starts school I want all the “don’ts” of internet usage gone. I want his teachers (hopefully Pam, Carla, and Greg) to tell him, “Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.” (Richardson) Isn’t that what education is all about? 


Simple to Real to Complex Blogging

I am asked: Will Richardson talks about the progression that bloggers go through from simple to real to complex blogging. What does this mean to you given your own recent journey into the blogosphere?

There is no doubt in my mind that I have written some blogs posts that might be considered true blogging, as Richardson describes, but I know I’ve also broken some of the rules. My inquiry question for this topic is, “What elements of complex – true – blogging do I already exhibit, and how can I expand on these to improve?”

 Looking at Richardson’s spectrum (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts,  and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, 2009, p. 31), I can see that there are some rules I’ve broken. I have listed links, although always in a context where there was (I thought at the time) a reason for doing so. One example is my post on blogs as PD. I listed some useful blogs at the end of my post and should have written about why I selected them. That, I’m afraid, was due to lack of time as I had been away on family business and did not have time for second thoughts – not my most carefully crafted work.

I certainly have given links with description, some deeper than others. I have tried to write as Richardson described in #7, “Links with analysis and synthesis, that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience in response mind (true blogging)” (2009, p. 31).

I think one of my strongest posts was It’s All About the Connections: VoiceThread . I wrote about the power of the tool, connected it to my own life, looked at application for both teachers and students, and made a connection to a revised Bloom’s taxonomy. Looking back at that post, I think I was truly blogging.

So what can I do to improve? I think I need to continue reading more blogs, and also reread my own. I can revise posts that are not well done. I can look for “true blogging” and continue to refine my skills. Where do I want to end up? Richardson quotes Ken Smith, (2009, p. 30) who suggests that instead of assigning students to write, we ask them to read widely and then think and write about what they’ve read, making connections. Eventually they will have other people reading what they’ve written and responding and discussing their ideas.

 I haven’t had a lot of comments, so I haven’t had the opportunity for a back-and-forth conversation. When I read Richardson’s blog, I can see how this refines and develops the ideas he is sharing, and I can see how powerful this is. In his post about Clay Shirky’s idea about using media for action (, Richardson has multiple comments from other great bloggers, and they also comment on one another’s comments, arguing, clarifying, and disagreeing with great energy. Wow!

Are We There Yet? Finishing EDES 501

Are We There Yet?

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. — Ursula K. LeGuin

So I’m almost finished the course, and it has been the most difficult course I’ve ever done. It’s also been the most exciting and immediately useful course I’ve done since I became a teacher librarian. I must hasten to add that the other TL-DL courses have also been excellent, but with those I had considerable experience in the field to help.

To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping  — Chinese Proverb

I laugh when I remember Jennifer Branch telling me that I should expect to spend 10-12 hours per week on the course. There were many weeks I spent three to four times that long. Thank goodness I was not still teaching, because there is no way I could have kept up. I’m looking forward to next week, when I can really start my retirement! No deadlines! Hurray!

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. — Marcel Proust

Too Close to Crashing

The main challenge of my journey through Web 2.0 was that EVERY WEEK I had to explore a new application, figure out how to use it myself, create a product with it, read how others were using it or evaluating its usefulness, and decide how it could be used by teachers and students in school. Then of course every second week I had, in my mind, yet another “paper” to do in terms of the discussion topic. The workload was quite horrendously intimidating, and at one point I thought I wouldn’t make it.

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. — Dante Alighieri

That dark point for me was the last week of September. I worked so hard on the video-sharing blog post (Stumbling Through Video Sharing, or The Week I Almost Lost My Mind) and did very poorly in terms of the mark. I almost quit the course, but Joanne did reassure me that I did in fact know what I was doing. As a side note, while it is fun to look at, I must admit that I STILL don’t altogether see the usefulness of YouTube in the classroom, especially since it is blocked in so may schools. I believe that TeacherTube is more educationally useful.

After this near meltdown I decided that I needed to limit the reading I did and focus more on choosing a few good articles or posts to share. Fortunately my new strategy of being severely selective in my reading worked, and this helped make the workload more manageable. I decided the next week after writing about RSS feeds that I could in fact do this Web 2.0 thing!

Earning Those Bonus Air Miles

The real plus of this journey through Web 2.0 was that EVERY WEEK I had to explore a new application, figure out how to use it myself, create a product with it, read how others were using it or evaluating its usefulness, and decide how it could be used by teachers and students in school. Then of course every second week I had yet another opportunity to explore Web 2.0 in terms of the discussion topic.

Wow! What an opportunity! I got to create a blog, and work on blogging over a whole term. I created a podcast, built a VoiceThread, crafted a wiki, uploaded photos to Flickr, learned how to embed videos and widgets, really mastered social bookmarking with Diigo, and much more. I got to read the writings of some of the leading lights in education and teacher librarianship.  And, best of all, I had great company on the journey.

Fellow Travellers

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

I have been fortunate indeed to be part of a wonderful class of gifted and dedicated educators. While I can’t possibly list all I’ve learned from them, I would like to mention each, in no particular order, ending with Joanne.

Joanie, what I have just realized is that your blog isn’t just about learning Web 2.0; it’s about how you live your life. I truly admire what you’ve achieved here. I loved your entry The Thrill of Victory. I enjoyed reading your blog each week with your strong voice, running quotes and analogies, and your passion for the craft of teaching. And thank you for reminding me to keep on top of my email!

Christine, I love your voice, your humour, and your enthusiasm. Your post What’s Next? Wikis for all of course! post makes me want to run right over to school and start making my teachers use wikis! Seriously, as always, Christine, you offer wonderful resources. Reading your blog is like getting great PD painlessly. Many thanks for your great ideas about time management too!

 Jill, I appreciate your philosophy of teaching and practice. You challenge me to think deeper, as in your post Sustaining Change in Technology Practices in School Your comments about sharing “the ownership of learning and change with all stakeholders – support staff, parents and students” resonates with me.

Rhonda, your blog is always practical and your comments supportive. You’ve given me many new resources to follow, including the Awakening Possibilties wiki and Anne Davies’ blog – EduBlog Insights. You are a podcaster extraordinaire as you show in Which Web 2.0 Tool? Thanks to you I’m going to try again to make Twitter work.

Jes, I am so impressed by how you are using VoiceThread with your students and encouraging your colleagues to use it too. Thanks also for the great resources you’ve introduced to me, including the Langwitches blog. I wish you all success with your exciting  First Nations project

Kathleen,  I appreciate the introduction to the chapter by Hughes-Hassell and Harada, Violet H. (2007): Change agentry: an essential role for library media specialists,” in School Reform and the school library media specialist. Your post blog-no11 What’s next? On the horizon of the web 20 landscape gave me much food for thought about wikis and the school library.

Selena – Your blog too gave me so many good ideas and resources. It’s Time to Walk the Talk remined me of Will Richardson’s blog, A Web of Connections…Why the Read Write Web Changes Everything, and introduced me to 25 Tools every Learning Professional should have in their Toolbox – and all for FREE!. I would love to hear more about the class wiki you are going to do next semester for your Social Studies 11 students, “who can get bogged down with all of the vocabulary they have to learn in order to be able to write their provincial exam (in French no less).”

April, Your post What’s Next? Provides all the links and suggestions for tools one would need to start blogging with students – including analysis of an actual online assignment. Now I want to check out

Heather, your post The ABC’s of Blogging in Education is one I want to share with my teachers. It is clever and intelligent and relevant. I also really appreciate the link to 50 Useful Blogging Tools for Teachers!

Darryl, yours is another blog I will return to for professional development. Your post In the wiki wiki wiki wiki wiki room…. with its links to your Literature Circles with the wiki and the The Learning Library Wiki is excellent, and I want to share Part II – Drum Roll Please…… with my staff when we look at blogging.

Joanne, thank you for all your work in setting up and running this course. You gave us challenging assignments supported by those excellent Trailfires. Thanks also for using Will Richardson’s inspirational book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom. I also appreciate your support and understanding when I really needed it.

Thanks to you all for your kindness and generosity as we shared this journey. I look forward to revisiting your blogs as they are wonderful professional learning tools for me.

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind. — Henri Frederic Amiel

Where to next?

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. —  Martin Buber

What have I learned? I believe I really do understand about Richardson’s Read/Reflect/Write/Participate/Web. I’ve learned that there are more experts out there in Web 2.0 than one person could ever find in a lifetime. Thank goodness I’ve also learned that it is not all up to me to find them – I’m developing a professional/personal learning network to help me.

I’ve learned that I CAN’T WAIT to get back into a school and start working with educators on Web 2.0 applications.

My next university course will be EDES 545, but unfortunately not next semester. What I am planning to do is continue exploring Web 2.0, and continue blogging about that journey. There are plenty of applications I haven’t tried (or mastered!) yet.

And, to answer my question — no, I’m not there yet!

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. — Greg Anderson

Moving Web 2.0 Towards School 2.0

Towards School 2.0

Professional Development: What Doesn’t Work

When I began to think about at how I would introduce web 2.0 to the teachers at my school, I immediately thought, “NOT professional development!” Why? Mention the phrase “professional development” to some teachers in my large, urban high school and you will immediately see their eyes begin to glaze over. Not so long ago, mandated, one-shot sessions dealing with the flavour of the month in education were common in my district. Thousands of dollars were spent to import outside “experts” (usually American) to tell large groups of teachers sitting in expensive rented meeting rooms how to create caring schools, reach at-risk students, or use graphic organizers.

My personal favourite? Our school paid a huge speaking fee plus expenses for an American professor to spend two hours telling the 100 teachers on our staff how to improve reading by having students use three colours of sticky notes and highlighters to colour code their textbooks.

Of course our district wasn’t alone in its need to change its ideas about PD. One researcher even wrote an article titled ‘”Professional development: A great way to avoid change” (Cole, 2004)’ (as quoted in Fullan, 2007).

What Does Work: Professional Learning

Building on the work of various researchers, including Michael Fullan, our district has recognized that the experts in teaching our students are already in our schools, and effective teacher learning does not happen with traditional PD. In Change the Terms for Teacher Learning, Fullan identifies key ideas describing the shift in teacher learning practices:

  • Professional development as a term is a major obstacle to progress in teacher learning;
  • We need to deeply appreciate the meaning of noted educator Richard Elmore’s observation (2004) that improvement above all entails “learning to do the right things in the setting where you work” (p. 73);
  • Student learning depends on every teacher learning all the time;
  • The first three components depend on deprivatizing teaching as teachers work together to continuously improve instruction (Fullan, 2007).

Fullan’s ideas clearly echo other findings about professional learning. In “What Makes Professional Development Effective? Results from a National Sample of Teachers,” Garet and his colleagues found that “PD was rated as most effective when it

  • a) was sustained and intensive rather than short-term,
  • b) was focused on academic subject matter with links to standards of learning,
  • c) provided teachers opportunities for active learning,
  • d) afforded opportunities for teachers to engage in leadership roles,
  • e) involved the collective participation of groups of teachers from the same school, and
  • f) was meaningfully integrated into the daily life of the school” (as quoted in Torff and Sessions, Factors Associated with Teachers’ Attitudes about Professional Development, 2008).

All of these ideas are reflected in our new efforts at professional learning in my high school. Instead of pulling teachers out to attend once or twice a year district “professional development” sessions on topics mandated at district level, professional learning is built into the culture of the school. As part of a district cultural change, and working with staff, students, parents, and community our school has selected an instructional focus that reflects our students’ needs. All of the school resources are centred on developing best practices to support our instructional focus: assessment for learning.

As the article Assessment For Learning: Planning for Professional Development explains, “In an assessment for learning environment, rather than something that happens at the end of the learning, assessment is used to support and inform learning, build self-confidence, and capacity for success (Stiggins, 2001). Assessment for learning is ongoing, and requires deep involvement on the part of the learner in clarifying outcomes, monitoring on-going learning, collecting evidence and presenting evidence of learning to others.”

When I think about working with teachers to implement the use of Web 2.0 in our school, I can’t help but think that using the “Read/Reflect/Write/Participate web” (as described by Richardson in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, 2009, p.137) ties in perfectly with our instructional focus.

Professional Learning at My School

Traditional professional development methods don’t work. What does work in my school is a professional learning model that

  • capitalizes on the expertise found in our school,
  • has teachers learning strategies and applications that work for
    • their curriculum and
    • their level of expertise,
  • encourages teachers to collaborate and lead,
  • is sustainable and long-term,
  • makes teachers active learners,
  • allows teachers to make some choices about
    • topics right for them, and
    • how and when they will learn,
  • Provides flexible release time,
  • Provides technical support.

Based on this model, it is evident to me that I can’t choose which Web 2.0 applications we should be using in our school. Instead, I choose to introduce the Read/Write Web, and then how individual applications support what Richardson (2009, 130-1) calls the New Literacies and Big Shifts of the read/write web classroom.

Plan for Introducing My School to the Read/Reflect/Write/Participate Web

Use the library web site to link to blogs, wikis, podcasts, Flickr photos, SlideShare, VoiceThread presentations, TeacherTube videos appropriate to various content areas.

Look for evidence we already participate – talk to colleagues, students to see who is blogging, podcasting, or otherwise creating content. Highlight this content on the library or the school web site.

Meet with department heads and the technology committee (technology lead teachers) to discover who can help teach about web 2.0 applications

With a small cohort of like-minded teachers, build a presentation to share with leadership staff.

Build a wiki of resources to be used for teaching about each application; e.g., the wiki page on Diigo will have links to

Set up short, varied tutorial sessions to be offered at various times: before or after school, during a spare

Offer longer, in-depth sessions during exam week, during department meeting time, or on a half day with teachers given release time to participate.

Use the cascade model – I teach you, you teach two others, they each two more, etc.

Use the cohort model – start with the interested/committed, establish training. Aim for one or two from each department.

Arrange for release time for the instructors and for interested participants who want to hone their skills.

Have the same session offered by different instructors, so that participants can work with the person they choose.

Partner experienced teacher with newbie when using a technique for the first time with a class (e.g., building a wiki)

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

Query staff as to what sessions they want.

Enlist gifted students to help teach.

Enlist non-teaching staff to share what they know (e.g., computer tech has a Facebook page for his hockey team)

Offer a variety of opportunities for learning including online resources, one-on-one instruction, small groups, use more than one instructor. Create a wiki of online tutorials for each application. Pull from sites like 100 Free Library 2.0 Webinars and Tutorials.

Take photos of tutorials and post on Flickr or have participants create slideshows online (Animoto, Slideshare, etc.)

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

All departments have photos of staff and students at work, best practices, etc. Give a workshop for Foods on turning these quickly into a presentation with music and text using Animoto.

Have volunteers blog (anonymously if they like) their experiences as they explore web 2.0

Offer particular sessions to particular departments e.g., do a session on VoiceThread for English teachers using a poem they teach, or doing a visual response.

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

Do a session on social bookmarking with the science department and have them transfer all their bookmarks to Diigo, and set up and/or join Diigo groups by topic; e.g., global warming, genetics, etc.

Do a session on RSS feeds with the social studies department. Show them Free Technology for Teachers: 34 Ways to Use RSS  and then have them explore the Social Studies Resources listed in the left margin. Have them sign up for a Google Reader account. Walk them through Getting Started with Google Reader.

Look at blogging for math classes (some teachers are already have students keep journals). Explore Darren Kuropatwa’s various blogs for mathematics classes.

Follow Helene Blowers‘s advice and tell staff to HAVE FUN! Look at her blog for reflections on teaching web 2.0 to adult learners.

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.


I particularly like the last sentence in the article Assessment For Learning: Planning for Professional Development.

“Taking time to incorporate changes in ways that strengthen and support current initiatives makes sense. Beginning quietly, but in inspirational ways, is often the best way to build a climate for sustained efforts that support change.”

Sharing expertise in ways that work with my colleagues, and celebrating the exciting product and learning that I know will result, can’t help but make our school a more vibrant learning environment.  Professional learning – here we come!

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?

Social Networking 2: It’s All About the Face Time

As I was working on this week’s assigned blog entry, I realized that I was writing two separate pieces. While I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about students (and my grandniece, Lauren) using social networking services (see Social Networking 1), I also have been trying some out myself. I’ll share some of what I discovered here.

For a long while I got caught up in the technology, frustrated with making my pages look and work the way I wanted them to. Then I had a light bulb moment – actually, several of them. Two of them happened live online, and I’ll tell you about those later. The others happened as I was reading.

The first was when I reread Stephen Downes’ article, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People, Downes says, “Be yourself. What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being.”

Sometimes I forget that what is important is what I have to offer as a person, not as a geek. If I’m connecting with friends and family through my Facebook page, it doesn’t matter that I can’t get some extra trendy application to work the first seventeen times I try!

Dustin Wax’s Lifehack article, 9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Social Media, includes a tip about this. He says, “Social networking is about connections between people, not profiles. Worry less about finding the perfect background or your 5 favorite songs and more about creating something people want to pay attention to.”

Wax gives some other excellent advice. He points out that signing up for sites is easy, but keeping them current requires effort and commitment, including the fact that “you must maintain at least a marginally active presence, and talk to other people now and again to make it work.” As he says, “You have to put into social networks in order to get out from them.”

In another article, Building Relationships: 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Social Networking Sites , Wax made some suggestions that resonated with me. I had another “Aha!” moment when I read these tips:

  • Have a clear purpose: Know what you’re using a social networking site for.
  • Pick one or two sites and focus all your energies on creating useful, meaningful connections there.
  • This might not apply to everyone, but for most people, once you’ve decided to use a social networking site for business purposes, don’t use it at all for non-business communication – and vice versa.
  • Complete your profile: Put some thought into what you want people to know about you and why people should care.

These tips helped me clarify my conflicted feelings about Facebook. Originally I wanted to use it to connect with former students. Then I was contacted by old friends. Then my family began to use Facebook, and now I am using it as a demonstration of my learning for a class. I have discovered that all these different connections don’t necessarily work that well on one site.  

In some ways using Facebook has been a wonderful experience for me because I have reconnected with old friends and former students. On the other hand, some of the content posted by some of my contacts is not necessarily appropriate for my other, rather more conservative (older) contacts to see. This has been a good learning experience, one that I would share with peers or students when talking about social networking services.

Conflicted feelings aside, two light bulb moments happened while I was working on my Facebook page. One was that I got a video from my six-year old nephew, whose father discovered how easy it is to create these on Facebook.

But the major one was this. I got a “friend request” from a former student, and was able to email back and forth with him (I know now that we could have used Chat, but I didn’t know that then.) Turns out he was in a bad way, struggling with college and work and family problems, and just needed a comforting voice. Without Facebook, that interaction would not have happened. And neither of us cared about anything other than that conversation – the virtual face time.

In my previous post, I quoted Will Richardson, who over and over again has said that teachers who want their students to succeed with Web 2.0 applications must first succeed with these applications themselves. His most recent, and, to my mind at least, most eloquent expression of this is in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership, in the article Giving Students Ownership of Learning: Footprints in the Digital Age. Richardson gives five suggestions to help teachers get started with social networking, and I’m proud to say I’ve done four of them.  

  1. Read blogs related to your passion. Search out topics of interest at and see who shares those interests. [My latest find is the forum at the Teacher Librarian Ning, where members are invited to share links to their blogs.]
  2. Participate. If you find bloggers out there who are writing interesting and relevant posts, share your reflections and experiences by commenting on their posts. [I’ve commented on several forum questions on the Teacher Librarian Ning, and started a discussion of my own.]
  3. Use your real name. It’s a requisite step to be Googled well. Be prudent, of course, about divulging any personal information that puts you at risk, and guide students in how they can do the same. [I’ve started trying to standardize user names and photos for all the sites I’ve joined. One contact said she recognized my photo from another site, so that strategy seems to be working.]
  4. Start a Facebook page. Educators need to understand the potential of social networking for themselves.  [Done. Also joined GoodReads and LibraryThing]
  5. Explore Twitter (, a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to exchange short updates of 140 characters or fewer. It may not look like much at first glance, but with Twitter, the network can be at your fingertips. [I haven’t yet done this, but plan to.]

And now that I’ve completed two blog entries when I planned to do one, my family needs some face time.


Social Networking 1: Lauren’s Network

Lauren’s Current Network

Last weekend I took a break from working on this week’s blog post on social networking. I went to visit my niece, and when I arrived, my seven-year-old grandniece, Lauren, closely supervised by her mother, was on the computer. She was busy checking her email at Webkinz, a social-networking site aimed at kids. Coincidence? I think not. Somehow fate knew I needed a cute photo (including pink kitten ears) to illustrate this week’s post.

It’s also not a coincidence that Webkinz is featured in the article Scaffolding the New Social Literacies, by Stephen Abram. Here’s a description from the web site (hosted by the Ganz plush animal people), “Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!”

I chatted with my grandniece about the site. She showed me the virtual room she has built for her various stuffed toys, and the games she likes best. As of yet, she isn’t chatting with other members, but that is available, although in a highly-structured, highly controlled way.

Abram also discusses Club Penguin ( The website says that “Club Penguin is a safe virtual world for kids to play, interact with friends and have fun letting their imaginations soar.”

Even though it costs $5.95 a month to join, Club Penguin is one of the top 10 social networking sites in the USA, so obviously children enjoy it, and parents are willing to pay for it.
Abrams point out that children using these highly commercial social networking sites, while carefully protected in a highly secure environment, are vulnerable to their pressure.

“What are these two sites doing? Isn’t it obvious? They’re using the Colombian drug lord strategy. These sites are, probably unintentionally, playground push-ers of social networking crack. They try for brand loyalty and return visits. Unlike MySpace or Facebook, they offer subscription models, or you need to buy something to enter. Peer pressure plays no small role in their word-of-mouth marketing.”

We as teacher librarians, Abrams says, have a teachable moment here. These two sites are highly ethical, but other networking sites work at collecting lots of data from their users. While we teach children about themselves and their place in the world, we can also teach them about online safety.

“At each stage we define what level of awareness they need to have while they’re on-line. What would we tell others about ourselves in our family? What information would you email grandma versus a stranger? Do you share more or different things when you’re out in your own neighborhood? What about strange neighborhoods? When do you tell people your whole name and address? What about when you’re interacting with the whole country or potentially the world, like on the web?”

Protecting or Overprotecting?

Other experts agree that schools need to help students use social networking sites appropriately. In her article ‘Safe’ social networking sites emerge, Laura Ascione discusses Whyville, “an online virtual world that immerses children in a video game-like experience where they must manage money, make sure they eat properly, and have the ability to communicate with others. More importantly, the site seeks to educate its users about online safety and how to behave in an online community.”

Another site for children,, a free social networking site centred on science, requires that users be registered by parents whose identity is verified by a credit card, or by a teacher as part of a class.

Ascione quotes Tim Donovan, vice president of marketing for the company that is launching Imbee. “Children and teenagers often don’t understand that what they post on the internet remains on the internet. We want kids to develop [an online] skill set under the guidance of their parents; we want parents to be accountable.”

While these sites are as safe as technology can make them, the article goes on to point out that it is essential that students be taught to be aware of online hazards such as identity theft and phishing scams, as well as online predators. I was appalled to read here that identity theft involving children under 18 doubled from 2004 to 2005. Schools need to take the initiative in teaching students how to network safely.

Lauren’s Future Networks

The School Library Journal article MySpace, Facebook Promote Literacy, by Debra Lau Whelan, dicusses a new report from Britain. Young People and Social Networking Services by the U.K.-based Internet safety organization Childnet International. The report says “there are potential “formal and informal” educational benefits for kids who use social networking services.” These include

  • improving technology and digital literacy skills,
  • developing “e-safety” skills
  • building collaboration skills
  • becoming a team player
  • broadening horizons
  • developing an understanding of how people live and think in all parts of the world.

The article concludes that social networking sites help students get real-world experience. “Being able to quickly adapt to new technologies, services, and environments is already regarded as a highly valuable skill by employers, and can facilitate both formal and informal learning.”

Googling Our Kids – Will Lauren Measure Up?

In Footprints in the Digital Age, Will Richardson muses on the impact of social networking on our children’s futures. “In the Web 2.0 world, self-directed learners must be adept at building and sustaining networks.” He signed up his children, aged seven and nine, on Club Penguin to get them started with social networks.

Richardson points out that we as teachers are likely being Googled frequently even now, and are judged on our digital footprint.  “It’s a consequence of the new Web 2.0 world that these digital footprints-the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know-are becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives.” How much more important will this become for our children in the Web 2.0 culture, where creating content is becoming commonplace and expected.

Richardson states, “One of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely.” Rather than just sharing information to be read, we should be teaching students to share information to engage an audience. Richardson cites the blog “Twenty-Five Days to Make a Difference” (, created by 10-year old Laura Stockman. Her sharing of her plan to do one good deed per day has engaged readers from around the world, and resulted in thousands of dollars raised in cash and kind for charity.

Of course, in order to help students learn to network effectively, we as teachers need to master the technology and the techniques of networking, and to have our students see us doing this.

Next weekend I’ll be heading back to spend some time online with Lauren.


Reading in a Web 2.0 world? For learning, understanding or both?

There have been times while doing my reading for my Web 2.0 course that I have felt completely buried, so my inquiry question is this. What research-based strategies can I add to what I already know about online reading to help my students (and myself) read, understand, and learn more effectively?

As I work on this course, I have found myself more than once identifying with my colleagues and students when they expressed dismay at how difficult it can be to do research on the Web. I thought I was pretty good, but I have found myself slowed down – considerably in September; less now – by the new-to-me Web 2.0 experience.

I’ve been working on the concept of reading online for more than seven years now. When I began looking at this idea in 2000, there was almost no help available in terms of research. I drew a blank searching the professional literature and the World Wide Web. While strategies for teaching students to search and to evaluate online material has been widely available, I could find nothing that dealt with how to help students comprehend what they found online. I had to create my own materials based on what I saw that my students needed.

There are two quotes that sum up how easy it was for my students to successfully research using the Internet. Roger Ebert said, “Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.” And D. C. Denison said, “The Internet may be the world’s greatest library, but let’s face it – all the books are scattered on the floor.” 

I identified several areas where my junior high and high school students needed help. These included

  • Using appropriate search strategies,
  • Creating effective search strings,
  • Learning to navigate a wide variety of online resources,
  •  Critically evaluating online content,
  • Locating useful/relevant information within a site or on a specific page, and
  • Using information appropriately once they found it, including avoiding accidental plagiarism.

Fortunately, in the last few years, research in the field has increased dramatically.  Researchers have identified a number of problems, and offered some strategies for dealing with them.

Julie Coiro, Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a Director of The New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut does research focusing on online reading comprehension. Here are some problems she identifies:

  • There is little consistency in the multimedia formatting of information on the Internet.
  • The amount of information available on the Internet can be overwhelming.
  • “Reading online is a complex process that requires knowledge about how search engines work and how information is organized within Web sites – knowledge that many students lack. Internet texts also demand higher levels of inferential reasoning and comprehension monitoring strategies that help readers stay on task” (Coiro, 2005, p.30).

Here are some of the strategies she suggests teachers use:

  • Modelling search techniques and strategies for students
  • Teaching students how to preview web sites using a 7 step process

Two Australian researchers (Murray and McPherson, 2006) recommend scaffolding instruction for the reading-to-navigate and navigating-to-read tasks involved in researching on the web. They identified these successful teaching strategies:

  • teaching skimming and scanning,
  • analyzing web page components
  • Teaching students to read an informational print text (read the title, . . . read the headings, predict what will be under each heading . . .), and then using those skills on a web page

One researcher’s work resonates particularly with me as I continue to learn to navigate Web 2.0 sites, especially blogs. And Web 1.0 sites too. Elizabeth Schmar-Dobler identifies more issues with online texts for students:

  • Dense text [I HATE reading PDF versions of articles retrieved from the U of A library databases. So often the background images obscure the already dense text.]
  • Distracting features such as animated graphics, colour. [It took me a long time to STOP being distracted by ads when looking at lists and search results in Diigo].
  • Understanding expository text “requires familiarity with its concepts, vocabulary, and organizational format.” [Have you notice how hard it can be with some blogs to figure out how to find a previous article? Or how many don’t have the search feature enabled?]
  • Hyperlinks mean reader creates own path through the material – can get lost and confused. [I have this problem with figuring out when a new window is opened, or when a tab is opened – I can’t count the number of times I’ve unintentionally closed my whole web browser. I’m not sure if this is a Vista problem or a “me” problem. Likely it’s me!]

So what can I do with all this information I’ve collected? Here are some ideas.

  • Share this information with my teachers.
  • Share this information with my students.
  • Integrate Internet reading comprehension strategies into our current program.
  • Increase emphasis on inquiry-based learning practices, as these help improve learning skills. “Teachers who give students choices, challenging tasks, and collaborative learning structures increase students’ motivation to read and comprehend text.” (Perkins-Gough, p .92)
  • Provide a wide variety of online resources at different reading levels
  • Work collaboratively with staff and student experts to provide instruction in navigating sites, interacting with online material.
  • I did find one new and different software-based approach to making online reading easier. It is described in the article “Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting: A New Method to Enhance Online Reading.” This describes a web-based software product that breaks down text into smaller chunks to enable easier reading, and cascades these chunks in large font down a page. The article claims that “Among high school students, who read with the format over an entire academic year, the VSTF method increased both academic achievement and long-term reading proficiency by more than a full standard deviation over randomized controls.” A trial is available for the program, called LiveInk, so I’ve been trying it out. Basically the user copies text to the clipboard and then pastes it into a window. I can certainly see this being very effective for some of my students, but I found that for me it slowed down my reading too much.

What have the experts said lately about reading online? Have things changed in a Web 2.0 environment? While students spend a lot of time reading online and creating content online, the jury is out on whether or not they can read effectively in terms of the way their teachers would like them to read. In his post Reading Online is Not Reading On Paper Will Richardson writes about how he is having difficulty reading novels or other books, he thinks because of the nature of the reading he does online. He points out that when he asks teachers what instruction is happening with this issue in the classroom, they reply, not much. He says, “What continues to concern me, though, is the paucity of conversation about any of this in our schools. This is hugely complex, and it requires a strategy and good pedagogy.”

Richardson discusses the article by Mark Bauerlein, Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind. Bauerlein details a number of the ways in which reading online differs from traditional reading, and concludes that reading online is a lesser literacy. Another article, Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? supports the view that online reading is a different type of reading than reading books, but is just as valuable.

I would certainly agree. I’ve been reading books well for years and years, but does that make me just as  good an online reader? No, it does not.

And new research deals with just this issue. I found online a proposed chapter for an upcoming book, Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices. In NEW LITERACIES OF ONLINE READING COMPREHENSION, Donald J. Leu, Julie Coiro, Jill Castek, Douglas K. Hartman, Laurie A. Henry, and David Reinking, discuss “Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Reading.” The first heading in their chapter is “The Internet is This Generation’s Defining Technology For Information, Reading Comprehension, and Learning.” The authors conclude, among many other things,, that reading offline and online are not the same, and should not be taught or assessed in the same way. They state that “a new and ambitious agenda of reading comprehension research is needed.” I’m looking forward to seeing that come to fruition, as perhaps there will be help for me as well as for my students!