Educators should be using blogs and wikis to grow professionally. This presentation discusses tools that educators can use to network and connect with other educators and to learn and grow as teachers.
I began blogging about education in 2004. I can't think of anything else I have done that has contributed as much to my professional growth and overall improvement as a teacher. I use my blog as a place to reflect, share ideas, and generate discussion. My blog has truly become a professional journal and portfolio. I began using wikis with my students several years ago, but I hadn't tried to use them with colleagues until I read Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's book Understanding by Design, which really changed the way I think about planning. I reflected on my blog about the book in much the same way we might ask our students to reflect in their journals about what they read. People responded. Others said they wanted to read the book, too. It occurred to me that creating a wiki might be a great way for all of us who were interested in backward design to create and obtain feedback on our unit plans. I probably should have asked the authors if it was OK, first, but as it turned out Grant Wiggins was very encouraging and even excited about the wiki. He allowed the wiki members to have access to his online courses for a year. I think NCTE's focus on technology at the last convention was great. People are talking about how to incorporate technology, and lots of ideas were shared about how to integrate technology into the classroom. However, I think it's critical that if we want our students to use the technology to learn and to grow -- blogs, wikis, and other social networking sites -- then we need to use it for the same purposes.
The most important reason that we need to use technology effectively is that we are moving toward a future in which our knowledge of and implementation of technology, including Web 2.0 tools, will be critical. Thomas Friedman's vision of the future is one in which we collaborate with other people all over the globe and the playing field for all countries is level -- the people who work together and use the technology will leave the rest in the dust.
We all have a professional learning network at our schools (I hope). We probably go down the hall to the teacher who has taught The Scarlet Letter before for ideas. We share our successes with and ask for help from our colleagues. Perhaps we even participate in a listserv or exchange e-mails with colleagues at other schools. One thing that blogging can enable you to do is expand your professional interests. Perhaps you are really interested in literature circles, but you're alone in your department. Communities of English teachers with the same interest can be found online. What you need to do is identify what you are interested in learning about or sharing with others and find or establish a community for that purpose. I personally have enjoyed engaging with others and connecting and sharing ideas. I know I'm a better teacher for having a wider professional learning network.
So why should you blog? Blogging is a great way to share opinions, news and commentary, but it’s also great for journaling, conducting research, and sharing observations and ideas. I use my blog primarily as a means of reflection on my classroom practices, but I also discuss issues such as backward design, mentoring teachers, technology, and assessment -- all issues which I am passionate about as an educator. My blog gives me a sounding board. A journal is great, and it’s certainly better than not reflecting at all, but what a blog provides that a journal might not is an audience who can challenge me, push me, celebrate with me, and even learn from me as I learn from them. This video by Common Craft explains what blogs can do in some more detail.
I am often asked by teachers what the difference between blogs and wikis is. Basically, a blog is a personal Web site that is updated with new posts. A wiki is more of a true Web site. Wikis can be created and edited very easily and can make great Web sites, especially for large groups who are collaborating and sharing. This video explains wikis much better than I could.
Whether you use a blog or wiki or both depends on what you want to accomplish. If you want a site for just yourself or perhaps a small group of writers, a blog might be better. Blogs tend to be more personal and more reflective of individuals. On the other hand, if you are working with a large group of people, and you are not so much interested in a log of posts as you are a finished product, a wiki might be the way to go. Blogs are good for individuals or small groups to share ideas and opinions or news and reflections. Wikis are better for collaboration, editing, sharing, and building a community.
In addition to blogs and wikis, there are lots of other ways to share your ideas and interact with others online. I am going to share a few that I use, but if you try some of these tools, you may find others that work for you besides these few.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s an easy way to stay on top of your favorite sites. You can look for this symbol when you visit a Web site. If you see it, then that site publishes what’s called an RSS feed. If you like the site and want to make sure you don’t miss any updates, you can subscribe to that site’s feed in what’s called a feed reader. I have a picture of my feed reader, which happens to be Google Reader. There are others, too, including Bloglines, Pageflakes, Netvibes, My Yahoo, and iGoogle to name a few. I have created a wiki with resources for you so that you can check out all of the information in this presentation, including exploring several different feed readers. What a feed reader will do is collect all your feeds for you. When you visit your feed reader and login, you will see all the updates on all the sites you subscribe to, so you don’t have to visit 20 or 30 or 100 different Web sites each day. You just have to visit one. The feed reader.
Before I started using Twitter, I have to admit I thought it was the most pointless thing I’d ever heard of. Twitter is similar to blogging, but you are limited to 140 characters, so you have to be succinct. I decided to try Twitter out, and my mind has completely changed. In fact, Twitter may be one of the most useful tools I use every day. Once you have a Twitter account, you can follow other people on Twitter and receive their updates. I have an example in this column here. People often share projects, news, links, and other helpful information in Twitter that they don’t necessarily share elsewhere. If you have a quick question and want a large selection of people to poll, Twitter is great. Let’s say you’re adopting textbooks. Send out a quick Tweet, which is Twitter parlance for a Twitter message, and ask your followers what textbook they use, why, and what they like or don’t like about it. Let’s say you’re looking for a good AP teacher community. Send out a message asking if anyone knows of one. It’s like sending a text message to your professional learning network. I warn you it’s a little addictive. People do post updates about their kids and their flat tires, but I find that to be part of the charm. You get to know your online network as people.
A new tool some teachers are beginning to use is Ning, which is a site that allows you to create your own social network. Nings have the capability to host blogs and forums. You can share documents, videos, audio, and photos. This year NCTE set up a Ning for the annual convention. What’s great is that the convention never ends. People who attended the conference -- even people who didn’t attend -- are still interacting, sharing, thinking, and collaborating on the Ning. As a result of the conference, rock star English teacher Jim Burke, who wrote The English Companion and conducts professional development among his many other accomplishments created a Ning that is a vibrant community of English teachers. A friend of mine, Lisa Huff (no relation) also created a network for English teachers called Literacy Lighthouse. I created one for one of my classes as an experiment. Nings that are used for education can be ad-free and closed so that only members may view the contents.
We probably think of Facebook as something our students are obsessed with. It’s the bane of our existence. Our schools block it, but the kids figure out how to get around the filters and waste school time on the site. I joined Facebook primarily to connect with a cousin, but over time, I found many other educators online. I’m earned a master’s degree through Virginia Tech online right now, and the main way I am able to interact with classmates is through Facebook. We established a study group on Facebook and regularly ask questions, share ideas, and commiserate. Facebook can easily be a tool for teachers, but it has the added benefit of being popular, which means you’ll find high school friends, your own teachers, maybe even former students on Facebook. You will have to decide what to do if students want to be your friend on Facebook and follow your school or district guidelines. I personally do not request to be friends with my students, but if they request to be friends with me, I restrict their access by placing them in my student group on Facebook so that I can limit what they see in my profile. The bottom line, however, is that I don’t post anything on Facebook or anywhere online that I would mind being in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I think that’s just smart.
The last tool I want to share with you is social bookmarking. There are two main players in social bookmarking: Delicious and Diigo. Delicious enables you to bookmark a site, share a description and tag the site with key terms to enable others who are looking for that kind of information. If you get a Delicious account, you can set up your account so that you can share your bookmarks with others through an RSS feed. Others can subscribe to your bookmarks and you can subscribe to theirs. It’s a great way to share Web sites with people who have similar interests. Diigo works the same way, but has an additional capability that I love. You can annotate the Web with Diigo. You can highlight passages on Web sites and leave sticky notes with your commentary. Other Diigo users can come by and see your comments and respond. These bubbles on this article are all sticky notes that if you mouse over them will display a comment. You can make your annotations private, too.
As excited as I am about all that teachers can do with these tools, I do have some precautions. First of all, be wary of anonymity. Many teachers set up anonymous blogs. That is the quickest route to complaining about one’s job that I know of. And if you complain, you can make others upset, and they may try to figure out who you are and they may be successful. And you could lose your job. A teacher in Chicago blogged about his school, Fenger High School, in a very negative way. He changed the name of the school to Regnef in his blog -- Fenger backwards -- but he was found out, and he had really hurt his students by his comments. He resigned, but had he not, he would have been fired. I don’t encourage people to blog anonymously, but if you do, keep in mind that you could be discovered and govern yourself accordingly. I truly believe anonymity is an illusion on the Internet. That’s not to say you shouldn’t put yourself out there online -- just be smart about it.
Access may be a problem in certain areas. Some schools have wireless networks and computer labs. Others don’t. Some people have Internet access at home. Others don’t. I encourage you to do whatever is reasonable -- you can use the Internet at your library. Sites like DonorsChoose.org may be able to help you with technology needs.
Spam is a huge problem with blogs. Just about any blogging site or software program I can think of has some kind of spam filtering, but just like e-mail, sometimes spam comments get through on blogs, and it’s annoying.
Another common problem is access. Lots of people tell me their school filters block social networking sites. I think that’s remarkably short-sighted. I understand the reasoning: it’s easier to block sites than teach, encourage, and expect students and teachers to use sites wisely, but we are cutting off a lot of avenues for growth. If you have administration or IT folks at your school who are willing to listen about blocking, I encourage you to talk with them and see if you can get blocks removed.
Finally, the most annoying problem with social networking is trolls. The word “troll” is Internet parlance for the kind of annoying kid who runs up to you on the playground, smacks you, then runs away before you can react. They usually post anonymously because they’re cowards, and they know what they’re doing is not nice, so they try to hide. I have had a few people I don’t even know say stupid or mean things to me for no good reason. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened a few times. I have a comments policy on my blog, and I don’t publish these kinds of comments, but I do see them, and as much as I wish I had a thick skin and could ignore them, they do bother me. It’s something to be aware of, but if you let the trolls keep you offline, it’s like letting the terrorists win.
I do have a few examples of some of the tools I discussed that I’d like to show you. On the handout I gave you, you’ll find a link to the wiki I created for us. All the tools I shared here are discussed on that wiki.
Show examples of blogs.
Show examples of wikis.
Show examples of Nings.
Thank you for coming to my session. I’ll be happy to field any questions or go back and explain something in more detail if you’d like.
Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development
Blogs and Wikis
Professional Development Tools
The Weber School
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Blog or Wiki?
• One writer or a • Large group of
small group of writers
• Sharing ideas and editing, sharing
• Individual or small
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Sunday, February 8, 2009
• Really Simple
• Blogs, wikis and
other sites publish
• Use feed readers to
Sunday, February 8, 2009