New Literacies Group – PLP ConnectU

This year I’ve been fortunate to lead the New Literacies Group, one of six PBL teams involved in the DEECD Professional Learning Practice program of 2011, a project involving 70 teachers across Victoria. Digital media literacy is something I’m passionate about as it continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession (1). Our team began by looking at new literacies of the more literary kind including online research, wikis, texting, blogging and micro-blogging. To keep things manageable we narrowed our focus to blogging – one of the key new literacies that has changed the way millions of people share and communicate with eachother.

Posting on Facebook, on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter or on a personal blog like this is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how new blogging is and how rapidly it is growing. Blogging didn’t become mainstream until this century. Facebook, with 800 million users (2), is less than eight years old, Twitter, with more than 200 million users (3) is less than six years old, and the big new social networking entrant Google+ has reached 50 million users in only three months (4).

These figures show that, if our students aren’t already blogging, then they will be soon. So it’s important that we help them and ourselves better understand blogging, its pitfalls and its benefits.

Our first task was to identify the key question to drive our PBL project. After much discussion we settled on, “In what ways does writing and communicating through blogging improve student learning and literacies?”

To our students, some as young as six, we simplified this to questions like, “How has blogging improved your reading and writing?” and “What have you learned through blogging?”

We also used this rubric to introduce both teachers and students to blogging to help them identify what they already know and what they need to learn. Most of our students are new to blogging, and so are some of our teachers, so we’re looking forward to recording our learning along the way.

I’m involved in a number of student, class blogs and school blogs, and I’ll use what I learn in this project to help them all. Since I’ll be spending more time with MAC H, a year 3/4 class at Winters Flat Primary School in term 4, and since these students are mostly new to blogging, I’ll be focusing on their blog and related student blogs to try and gauge the effect of blogging on student learning.  Please check out the MAC H blog here – comments are welcome.

(1) NMC Horizon Report K-12 2011

(2) LA. Times. September 22, 2011

(3) BBC, March 28, 2011

(4) Paul Allen, Google+, September 27, 2011

Not enough time? Blame Facebook! No, Twitter!

“Real Life”. I don’t like weeding the garden!
The power of ICT brings so many new possibilities to our lives that it can be difficult to choose which ones to pursue and which ones to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we might want to do.
The miriad of possibilities created by ICT also bring into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  “Real Life” or “RL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem quaint.  More and more peole are forming close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people are beginning relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” He said that he’d never met in person most of his best teachers.  That’s something I’ve only recently come to appreciate.
“You spend too much time on the computer,” is a valid criticism for husbands or wives who spend too long on Facebook or Twitter.  It’s certainly an offense I commit all too frequently. But it’s not because I’m ignoring “Real Life”.  Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book.  Facebook and Twitter, seductive as they are, must be balanced with many other real life commitments. There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.  I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.

Do you ever get the feeling that there’s just not enough time to do all the things you “need” to do?

Social networking through sites like Facebook and Twitter is seductive. Online social networking may be one of the most profound sociological developments of the twenty first century – but it can also be a terrible waste of time! In an already busy world it has made our lives even busier!  ICT brings with it so many possibilities that it can be difficult to choose what to pursue and what to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we want to do because we are spoilt for choice!

This miriad of possibilities also brings into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  The term “In Real Life” or “IRL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem a little quaint.  More and more people form close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people begin relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD session (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” (Safely, of course!) He said that most of his best teachers were people he’d never met.

“You spend too much time on Twitter,” is a fair criticism for many of us.  But it’s not because we’re ignoring “Real Life”. Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book. More importantly – even more than a good book – Twitter and all kinds of other ICT tools create entirely new and powerful possibilities that I never had before. That’s what makes them so exciting.  Gutenberg helped change the world. It’s now the turn of a five year old – Twitter.  Here’s some interesting writing on the topic:

Dismissed as a joke, Twitter revolutionises the way we communicate

Social Media Revolution

Short History of Twitter from Gutenberg

Is social media Gutenberg or Guttenberg? It’s actually both

Of course Facebook and Twitter, powerful and seductive as they are, must be balanced with our many other real life priorities.

There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.

I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.

How to manage an Edublog blog

Blogs on edublogs.org and globals2.vic.edu.au, like this one, use the Word-Press content management system (CMS) that makes it easy to manage a blog.

Click on the links below to see some helpful videos.  The user interface in these videos differs somewhat from the standard Word Press interface on many blogs, but the principles remain the same,

Five minute overview

Writing posts and pages

Customizing your design

Configuring your settings

Playing with plugins

Managing users

Using the manage tab

Is blogging good for school children?

Blogs have tremendous educational potential.  They provide a communication space that teachers, children and parents can use to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken at school in any subject area.  They enable children to showcase their work and to receive feedback and encouragement from friends, family and fellow students.

What are blogs?
You are reading one.  Blogs are websites maintained by people to describe events or make commentary on news or subjects of interest.  Blogs are mostly made up of pieces of writing, called posts, written by the blog owner.  They may also contain images and video and usually have links to other blogs and web pages.

Do blogs threaten children’s privacy or safety?
Blogging on teacher-monitored blogs is a comparatively safe online activity, but since anyone can see a blog and anyone can post a comment on a blog, there is a risk that unwanted comments will be posted.  Usually comments don’t appear publicly on a blog until they are approved by the blog’s owner (this is the default setting for most blogs), so inappropriate comments will only be seen by the blog owner (child) and the teacher administrator.  School children should be taught about cyber bullying and all school blogs should be monitored to ensure appropriate behaviour.  It is rare to find anyone outside the school community posting on a school blog.  Children should not share personal details like their address or family photos.  Once a photo or video is posted on a blog it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone.