Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Evaluating Technological Tools

Before I go on to evaluate some tools that can enhance teaching, learning, and collaboration. This post describes the power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and how you can start your own.

 This post will focus on the best ways to use three tools to create a local and global network

     Feedly is an amazing replacement for the Google Reader, and is a very simple RSS tool. If you are unfamiliar with these tools, the main goal is to gather relevant news, blogs, social media, and other digital content that interests you. For example, my own Feedly has a variety of breaking news feeds from sources like NBC, CNN, BBC, Huffington Post, and New York Times. It is a nice way to condense all the newspaper headlines into one place. Some of my other feeds are organized into categories for my own preference. I also have a variety of other categories that I use for professional development reasons. Here is a quick video of my Feedly page.

     This tool offers a great independent way to gather relevant information, and increase your own awareness. It provides an opportunity to increase your learning, which can ultimately enhance your own teaching. The news feeds you subscribe too, could be geared toward your own professional goals, interests, and content area. In the video I shared, you'll see there is a section all for science. I make a habit to check this every morning before school to be able to share any interesting recent stories that pertain to astronomy or earth science. There are a variety of ways to use this tool, depending on your comfort level, the easiest is to use it for personal learning goals.

Google Plus
     This tool is similar to other social media tools, however, it is very easy to join a "community" and collaborate globally, or create a "hangout" to collaborate locally. The tool is very versatile. It has the potential to allow for the typical social networking needs, such as sharing photos, status updates, sharing videos..etc. However, underneath that social piece there are powerful collaboration tools. Any user can quickly join a "community" of their interest and start gathering relevant information about that topic. Similarly, you can add your own information to that community and trigger your own conversation. Here is a quick video of my communities page (the video was cropped to protect much of my own identity) {here is that social media article I clicked on in the video}
    Google Plus also offers "hangouts." This acts as a virtual conference room. A hangout can be scheduled and collaborators will join either virtually via webcam, or participate without video and be able to communicate through typing. This is real-time collaboration and allows for immediate feedback. This could be a great place for students to interact virtually with other peers on a global scale. A Google hangout might be organized by teachers to host a debate, scientific conference, discussion, or even an interview. The potentials are limited to the creativity of the teacher and the technology integration specialist. This tool also has the potential to act like an RSS reader and allow the user to subscribe to news headlines to gather current information based on interests. The great thing about this feature is that a discussion on a current event could take place instantaneously. A student may discover a headline, and organize a hangout to have a real-time discussion about the topic.

    It took me a while to come around to this one. I was one of those people hung up on the 140 character limit, and not understanding how anyone could effectively collaborate through texting language. But, I have to admit, there is a ton of information available with this tool. It takes a bit of understanding the lingo to become comfortable, but it has huge potential for collaboration. Using hashtags allows you to quickly contribute, and follow the discussions relevant to that topic. Each user has the potential to create lists. These are groups that can be created to include specific people, with private collaboration. They can have private members with public collaboration, or can be completely public. Lists offer the potential for a wide range of collaboration. This could be an extension of at PLN to share and gather information, or could be more in depth as far as posting discussion questions, and answers.
    The tool can act like a powerful search engine to quickly find information form people discussing a particular topic. The potential with this tool for students is again, limited by the creativity of the teacher and technology integration specialist. Student could create their own lists for discussion forums, they could add content via tweets with hashtags, they could simply follow relevant people related to the topics.There is a range of collaboration options. 

Final Thoughts
   The three tools described have the potential to enhance learning for the educator and the student. There are great opportunities to create local collaboration groups, global groups, and incorporate these groups into a classroom. Students have the opportunity to expand their cultural horizons, and increase learning opportunities through collaboration. A student could use these tools to start their own learning network based off their interests. The important thing to remember is to be safe and collaborate appropriately. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Moral and Legal Issues

Technology has really become a staple tool in many places of residence around the world. You may not necessarily find a cordless drill, hammer, skill saw, lawn mower, screw driver,  or a shovel. But, you can almost guarantee that you will find some piece of technology that can connect the user to online collaboration. With this "power, comes great responsibility." - Uncle Ben Parker. (Well, to get technical about that quote, the appropriate citation would have to reference Stanley Lieber better known as Stan Lee)

On a serious note, technology connects users globally, and provides an opportunity to interact in a seemingly, real-time setting. The responsibility of the user appears as they share ideas, stories, media, and other information. There is an appropriate etiquette that most humans follow when interacting with one another in a public setting, this same type of etiquette should be used when interacting in an online setting . To put it simply "The internet is like a mall" (Ripp, 2010). When you go to the mall, you mind your own business  Normally, you're not going around handing out your personal information and talking to everyone you pass. This same attitude should be used when collaborating online. To stay safe you need to mind your business and share limited personal information. Public behavior at the mall also follows etiquette deemed acceptable by society. Meaning that there is an appropriate way to behave in public to treat others respectfully and carry yourself with dignity. The typical person is not running the hallways of the mall pushing and shoving other people, using profanity, bullying or harassing anyone else. If you do decide to behave that way there are legal ramifications for your actions. The same attitude should carry you through your online public and personal interactions. There can be legal ramifications for your actions online. When interacting online, there is a written archive of your behavior. That behavior is easily traceable to your online persona, especially if the authorities were alerted to cyber-bullying or harassment. Interactions online doesn't put a mask over who you are and how you want to be viewed. There seems to be false confidence with some users, who feel as their online persona is an alternate personality  allowing their version of  Mr. Hyde to appear  You should just behave the same way you would if you were at the mall or any other public setting. 

Similarly when interacting online, there are some  privacy and other legal rights that users should be aware of. True, it is legal to take public pictures of anyone and anything,  and then share those images. Yet, your own code of ethics should govern your decisions of what you do with those pictures and how you share them. Remember, as soon as you share a photo via any social media, that photo is no longer your property. The only way to gain ownership back is if you, or the original author closes their account down entirely.  Even if you shared an image with good intentions, someone else can take that photo and use it to harass or bully. You really need to be careful with what you share, how you share things, and who you share them with. 

There can be penalties for your actions online, and their can be unpredictable ramifications. The key thing to remember is that you should abide to the same moral code that conducts your daily social interaction while you interact online. Make sure your sharing media with people who you know and trust, and if you are going to interact on a larger community or global scale, be leery of what you write. View your online interactions like any other public interaction you may have in your daily life. You most likely wouldn't go up to someone on the street and share information about a party you went to a few days ago, so why would you share that to the entire digital public? The border between morality and legal actions while interacting online is a fine line. You have legal rights as defined in your First Amendment  but there is some grey areas where some people claim the  first amendment grants them the right to say and write anything.   Harassment  or bullying are the same thing whether it is in writing  or pictures. If it has the potential to harm someone, or degrade another person your are walking out of that first amendment protection. If you notice any behavior that offends you, it probably offends someone else and you should report that incident. The easy thing to do is report it through the social media site where it occurred  The next best thing to do would be to alert a person of authority. If you are under 18, alert a parent, teacher, school principal, or maybe even the police. If you feel as though something you are going to say may upset someone online, or may not read the way you want it to sound, maybe you should not post anything. It is hard to express sarcasm  or a joking tone through writing  Even the most famous writers have to provide tremendous character development before a reader understands that the character is joking. 

The moral of this post is to keep you online interactions positive  safe, and respectful. Report any incident of harassment  bullying, or anything that makes you uncomfortable. Make sure you understand your rights as a user on that social media (i.e Read the fine print before you click I agree!!), make sure you understand the difference and similarities between digital social interactions and typical social interactions  They are pretty much the same thing, and require the same level of mutual respect. 

Here is a quick guide I put together a while ago, about staying safe from Cyber-bullying.


Ripp, P. 2010. Why the Internet is like the mall. Retrieved from

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Blended Learning to Promote Global Education

As society evolves and the availability of technology increases, people are required to be familiar with technology tools and are required to be able to use them for productive purposes  Technology provides great leisure activities such as social networking, reading news, playing games, or  creating and publishing your own "two-cents," through tools like Blogger, Google Sites, Google Docs, Issuu..etc. Technology also provides a world of information available if you look in the right places. Blended learning is an education term that simply tries to combine the best of two worlds, meaning that education meshes the traditional face-to-face interaction with the use of technology tools to enhance learning opportunities (Chistensen, 2013). This type of education has the potential to provide learning opportunities that extend beyond the boundaries of the school. 

Just like many things in education, blended learning can occur on a variety of levels. A typical classroom teacher could create a blended learning environment that is specific to that courses content and combine the face to face learning with technology tools in that contained classroom. If students were willing to experience a different type of learning environment, blended learning can occur on a global scale. For example, a small school, like the one where I teach can only offer so many curriculum choices to the students. If a student wanted to learn something that was not offered in the building they could easily enroll into some online learning formats. As my school has started to discover, many true online learning formats really require the student to be very well organized, and self-motivated to do well and keep current with the courses requirements  There are not typical daily check-ins and interactions that a student would be accustomed to in the traditional learning environment  The Online course may not provide that direct instruction and immediate feedback that can be delivered in the face to face setting. However, many online type of courses are adopting a blended format, where there is a combination of individual learning, along with virtual face-to-face interaction. (Gawron , 2011). The blended environment mixes the online format with a more personal interaction with the teacher and even the class members  Video conferencing tools, and chat tools provide the availability to interact with the teacher through real-time connections. To gain a good blended experience a class should have a mix of independent work, scheduled real-time collaboration meeting times, and the availability of unscheduled face to face meeting times. This type of setting provides a better education experience for the student, and provides more opportunity for the students to participate in courses not offered locally, and feel as though they have access to the teacher to ask questions and obtain feedback. 

Blended learning environments have the potential to provide students with opportunities to expand their learning horizons and be able to collaborate with students and teachers beyond their own school. Depending on the course they wish to enroll, students may be able to collaborate on a global scale. An individual may be able to take foreign language courses for a language that is not offered at the school. A student who wishes to learn to speak Chinese could enroll in a course that might be a blended class based in China. This would provide an amazing learning experience. The student would be able to access the content which they desire, and would be able to collaborate globally with peers. This collaboration would help the students learn how to be appropriate digital citizens and become aware of cultural differences and be able to interact regardless of location, race, gender, culture, and political attitudes. The blended learning environment inst' just an opportunity to take a different class, but has the potential to provide a worldly experience to the student, without leaving the comfort of the school, or their home. I am willing to bet that within the next 5 to 10 years, most school will have a blended learning environment option and some will start to make a blended global course a requirement for graduation. Learning how to interact with technology on a global sense is an increasingly important skill. As the world becomes more connected, barriers need to be brought down and collaboration needs to occur. There is a great potential for the wold to become a "smaller" place where people are willing to work together for the greater good of humanity. 

Cristensen, C.M., Horn, M.B., Staker, H. 2013.  Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive? An introduction of the theroy of hybrids. Retrrieved from

Gawron, H.W. 2011. Blended Learning: Combining Face-to-Face and Online Education, retrieved from

Personal Learning Networks

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) can take a variety of forms, and be as involved as you want them to be. Meaning that you could be a silent subscriber and follow blogs, articles, social networks or communities and add very little of your own  to these posts. You could simply read what others have contributed and reflect on tips, tricks, attitudes, pedagogy and other philosophies as they pertain to your own teaching and your own classroom. Or you could be a blogger, and active contributor with posts, comments, and other contributions. Or you could have a range of anything in-between  The beauty of the PLN is that it is free, it is personal and can be customized to fit exactly what you want. Before you dive right in to a fully functional PLN, I would advise taking baby steps to become comfortable with the format, and online security, and your digital footprint before you start contributing globally. 

Baby Step #1 

The PLN is an important piece of being a well rounded educator. Creating your own learning network helps keep you informed of  cutting-edge news, views, tool, application and best practice in education. With the availability and ease of access of technology tools, a PLN is a very quick and easy community to build and collaborate. Again, collaboration can take a variety of forms. It useful to create a network and follow what other say, to reflect on your own practice and obtain new ideas to use with your own students. A good first step to creating a PLN would be to find sources that pertain to your interests and organize them into one location to quickly check. For example if you use a news feed resource like Feedly  to stay current with world news, and you also use  Facebook for a PLN you can go here and get the rss link for your Facebook notifications and add it to your news feed reader of choice. That way you can minimize the amount of places you need to navigate to to keep current with your PLN and daily news. Within your news feeder you can create a category that is dedicated to your PLN. I use Feedly as my news reader of choice. It is very easy to customize and easily allows you to organize content in a way that makes sense for you.  Another first step would be to create a group or circle on a social media site you may or may not use. For example, if you use facebook to keep current with friend gossip, there is a good chance that some of those people are educators, similarly there is a good chance that you are friendly
 with coworkers and other people in the education world. Create a group or circle of these individuals for your own ease of access. 

Baby Step #2
As you build your PLN, a good first step would be to become part of the communities that interest you, and follow the conversations. As you become more comfortable with checking these sources and staying current you could jump to the next level and start recording your own reflections, ideas, and advice through a blog or other online journal format. If you use a blog, there are settings to make it private so your thoughts are not yet visible to the entire digital world, or if you use something like Google drive to create a journal it is easy to make that private as well. Reflection is an important process in learning. As you create and participate in your PLN, it is important to process the information you acquire. As much as you think that you will remember what you read, it is a good idea to keep track of the things you agree with, don't  agree with, and describe any alterations you would make to ensure that something you read is the best fit for your own needs.  As you start recording and reflecting on things you discover in your PLN and are comfortable checking your news sources, reflecting on tips and tricks and even trying some things in your own teaching. You could start contributing to your PLN. Again, since the PLN is created by you, and tailored to your interests, it is a good chance that the blogs you follow don't know who you are. However, you have ideas and opinions that are worth communicating. 

Baby Step #3
Once you are comfortable checking news sources, and finding cutting edge tools and pedagogy within education, and are reflecting on things you learn, your contribution is important. A big part of the PLN is contributing. Whether you believe it or not, your opinions, attitudes, experience, and ideas are worth sharing. This step can take a variety of forms. As I mentioned before, your PLN may include blogs, news sources, Google Plus, facebook feeds, twitter feeds...etc. All of which you may not necessarily contribute. Before you start to contribute to your PLN you have to be aware of your digital footprint, and citizenship to participate respectfully and your contributions are well received  You could start adding comments and questions to these blogs or news feeds. The form of your reflections may take on a different persona and can actually be published as part of your PLN. If you organized a group of individuals on a social media site like Google Plus and have individuals that you personally know, it is time to alert them of the PLN.  This could be a formal explanation of the intentions, or it could just be a comment or question relating to something you read in your PLN. As comments start rolling back in you are on your way to creating an environment where the contributions will be  valuable and become an extension of a productive faculty or team meeting. 

The PLN is a great tool for the individual to expand their own horizons as an educator. There are ranges of involvement and levels for which you can contribute and participate in a PLN. I would recommend that the most low key PLN would be the most beneficial. As soon as it starts to feel like work or become a burden, you will lose motivation and stop participating. Look at this way, as an educator you are probably already constantly looking at things in your everyday life saying "whoa that's great, how can I incorporate that into my classroom?" A PLN is a place to have those moments and share what you did. It is an important piece of education, especially with the ease of collaboration.