Saturday, March 29, 2008

Part 4 – Social Networking in Education

Issues and Concerns

While social networking sites lend themselves to numerous educational uses, there are many school districts that block these types of web sites. Since Acceptable Use Policies for computers in schools are intended to convey that computer resources are meant for school work, “social networks” are likely regarded as non-school related because of the potential for misuse. If certain social networks (such as Facebook) are blocked in a school district, it still may be possible for teachers to use social networks with their students. Instead, teachers may have to subscribe to a social network which is designed and created specifically by the teacher, such as Ning (check out Ning in Education: “a community of educators using Ning to build social networks”). Also, some school districts can lift the block off certain sites for particular class projects, by special request from the teacher.

A recent and highly publicized issue relating to Facebook as a tool for peer tutoring in Ryerson University reveals how students have adapted social networking for educational purposes. Chris Avenir and his classmates used Facebook as means of comparing notes and sharing homework tips and questions. The controversy lies in the fact that his professor stated that the assigned work was to be done individually, and not worked on with others. However, Avenir’s argument remains that an online study group is no different from an in-person mentoring group, or peer tutoring. Despite the circumstances of this situation, the use of social networking as a method of online peer tutoring becomes apparent.

Potential Uses of Social Networks in Classrooms

How can classroom teachers use social networking? Social networks allow students to:

* learn how to come together in an environment to interact for a specific purpose; build a community
* personalize pages to express individuality and creativity
* pose questions to the community
* hold forums to discuss topics of interest
* find and share research resources
* create study groups and peer tutor
* interact with people who are working on similar projects/homework

Educators and students may find some of the following sites useful for their activities:

LinkedIn: A networking site for professionals looking to make contacts and build relationships in their professional communities.

Xivio: This is a networking site designed for children or young adults. You have to have permission of an adult if you are under 18 and the site is monitored to ensure appropriateness. It is a 3D world for chat and video and music uploading and sharing.

Imbee: Imbee is designed for children ages 8 to 14 and is designed to be a chaperoned site that adults can keep tabs on. Accounts are free and they are actively courting teachers to set up classes using the service.

Bebo: Bebo is a social media network where friends share their lives and explore great entertainment. Open to anyone 13 and older.

Yahoo360: This site combines a personal webpage with a blog and a photo album.

Ning: An online service where you can create, customize, and share your own Social Network for free in seconds.

Twitter: Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing? It provides a constant feed of updated personal information to those in a social network.

For other ideas about how educators are using social networks, take a look at the list of links at Social Networks in Education.

Potential Uses of Social Networks in the Library

Social networks, such as Facebook, can have many potential uses for the school’s library. Miller and Jenson (Connecting and Communicating with Students on Facebook) suggest that Facebook be used as a way to communicate the events and services of the library to students. The four Applications they recommend to utilize to grab students' attention are: My Profile, Notes and Posted Items, Albums, and Events.

Some suggestions include:

* posting up to date contact information and office hours
* share favourite books, TV shows, interests, or quotes
* get the word out about a new database or resource
* post a weekly trivia question and offer a prize to the first person who messages you with the correct answer
* create a library tour that features hotspots in the building and details guidelines for their use
* describe how to use library technology, including software and hardware. For example, you could provide screen shots of citation management software and the instructions for using it.
* plan a drop-in workshop that highlights a new tool at your library. The R.S.V.P. feature will let you know how many students to expect.
* create Events for book groups, exhibit openings, or student appreciation festivities

Merideth Farkas writes about another interesting way libraries can utilize the power of social networking. She explains:

“We need to start thinking about how to make our content more portable so that we can easily place it into the paths our users travel online. The more places our content can be found and ways it can be accessed, the more likely it is that our content will get used…. If the library is literally in our patrons' faces when they need to do research, they are much more likely to utilize our resources….Last spring, I wrote about creating a portal to library services in Facebook ( and MySpace ( (AL, Apr., p. 27). Since then, Facebook has opened up its platform to software developers, enabling people to create applications that will either pull content from other places into Facebook or to search content already in Facebook. A number of libraries have created applications that will search the library catalog and selected databases. Patrons can add these tools to their profiles for easy access” (Your Stuff, Their Space).

Currently, the University of Michigan Library, among many others, has created a Facebook application for searching their library catalog, while the Birmingham Public Library has a catalog search widget in MySpace. Patrons can easily add these widget applications to their profiles so that they may search the library from within these social spaces (Kroski).

Social Networking for Educators

There are many professional development opportunities available through social networks. Edublogs has several recommended social networking sites for educators:

Classroom 2.0
EFL classroom 2.0
Kingswear School Network
Talkabout Primary MFL
Voices of the world

Social networks for educators can provide forums to share teaching strategies and ideas. I have found Classroom 2.0 helpful on numerous occasions while learning about the uses of web 2.0 tools!

Some Final Thoughts

I could not help but find myself completely consumed by this week’s blog topic. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of social networking, and how it is shaping our day to day interactions. I recognize that there are still several barriers which may prevent social networking from finding its way into classrooms immediately, but it is not likely a permanent situation. As with any new technology, there is learning curve, as well as some “troubleshooting” which must happen before the educational uses can be fully realized. With some careful preparation by a knowledgeable teacher, I believe that social networking can become an effective tool in classrooms and libraries. Social networks provide a way in which we can teach, and learn from others through a collaborative “dynamic” online community!

Part 3 – The Facebook Phenomenon

The name of the website refers to the paper facebooks depicting members of a campus community that some American colleges and preparatory schools give to incoming students, faculty, and staff as a way to get to know other people on campus. (Wikipedia)

Facebook has certainly made its mark. Created in 2004, Facebook is one of the most well-known social networking sites. In January 2007, the site had 3.3 million users, compared to a whopping 15.3 million users a year later (Peesker). While Canadian Facebookers showed a recent drop in use of the site, the U.S. figures show a continued increase in users per day (Peesker).

Facebook has dramatically affected the way people communicate. Many people have an account, or have at least been invited to create an account. Signing up for an account allows Facebook users to go out and find their friends who have also created accounts. Teens and adults alike can keep track of their friends’ lives by: viewing status updates; photo albums; sending notes, gifts, cards, and videos; as well as other fun and nonsensical applications available on the site. (I have sent “Tim Horton’s coffee” to my friends on Facebook; doesn’t that say it all?)

However, Facebook doesn’t impress everyone. Sites such Snubster, Enemybook and Hatebook are appealing to Internet users who get a kick out of the tongue-in-cheek humour of mocking their friends and others who are just plain cynical (Parody sites start anti-social trend). One criticism of Facebook is that some users are “friend collectors” and add as many people as they can to their friends list as a symbol of status. Having hundreds of friends on Facebook doesn’t really mean that all of those connections are genuine or meaningful relationships.

The Future of Facebook?

Social networking expert Charlene Li states that although Facebook is entertaining, it should expand into more practical areas. Li asks: wouldn’t people like to know more about things such as what books or restaurants their friends recommend? While Facebook does offer some insights into the likes and dislikes of the users, there is a limit on the types of interactions which can take place, and it does not allow users the ability to share information with other user-based websites. As Li points out, there are difficulties which arise in the privacy filters which would need to accompany such interactions.

Therefore, Facebook may be “the leader of the pack” in social networking for now; that is, until something better comes along.

Privacy and Safety on Facebook

One of my major concerns when I first signed up for a Facebook account was about how to maintain privacy. I have learned that there are a number of ways in which users can safely connect with friends, while at the same time, not feel completely “exposed” on the Internet.

Under the “Privacy” tab, users can select the degree of privacy they wish to control on the following:

a) Profile – users can control who can see their profile and personal information
b) Search – users can control who can search for them, and how they can be contacted.
c) News Feed and Mini-Feed – users can control what stories about them get published to their profile and to their friends’ News Feeds.
d) Applications – users can control what information is available to applications they use on Facebook.

Additionally, there is also the option to “Block People” so that they will not be able to search for you, see your profile, or contact you on Facebook.

My preference has been to connect with my friends and family whom I know to be on Facebook, but now having done that, I have chose not to be available for anyone else to contact me. One main reason I have done this, was so that I would not be contacted by students. I preferred not to include them in this particular social network.

It is also interesting to note, that should a Facebook user decide to deactivate or delete an account there may still be actually be information connected to him on the site. Andy Greenberg’s article, “How to erase your Facebook profile” explains the steps necessary so that a former user actually becomes “web dead” on Facebook. Other web privacy information is provided by this article, such as: deleting your MySpace page, subscribing to ReputationDefender; deleting photos off your blog, and deleting Google results.

Social Networking and Cyberbullying

Bullying is not a new phenomenon; however, with the increased ability to produce and publish content on the internet, bullying has taken a new twist. Social networking sites provide opportunities to target and terrorize individuals in insidious new ways. Due to the fact that bullying can take a more anonymous form on the Internet, social networking sites can become open forums for bullies.

Many schools block social network sites for this reason. Furthermore, some schools have updated their student code of conduct to clarify that bullying by electronic means-"interactive and digital technologies or cell phones"-will be treated as seriously as the traditional schoolyard variety (Stover, 2006).

Teachers, students and parents must engage in discussions about what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate web behaviour. Social networking is similar to the other web 2.0 tools which require respect for other participants.

* An excellent source of information about online safety can be found at:
Social Networking Sites: Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens.

Part 2 – Social Networking Web Sites: The New “Hot Hang-Out”

Wasn’t “the mall” the preferred hang-out for teens? Times are changing. Social networking now occurs in-person and on-line.

A January 2007 survey found 55% of all online American youths ages 12-17 have created profiles at social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, with 48% visiting social networking sites at least once a day. As with other teen activities, social networking filters down to younger kids. A recent survey found 71 % of tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 17 visit social networking sites weekly (Hayes, 2007).

For 15-17-year-olds, the socializing sites are the big draw: 91% of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, and 82% use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person. While 70% of older girls have used an online social network compared with 54% of older boys, the boys are more likely than girls to use the sites to make new friends (60% vs. 46%). (Hayes, 2007).

Older teens are more likely to use the same site their friends use, typically MySpace, Facebook, or MyYearbook. As users update their content frequently to continue drawing in friends, and as they grow older, their pages evolve toward utility and maturity and away from frantic animations and edgy, repetitive content. (Hayes, 2007).

The Big Three

The three most popular social networking sites are generally agreed to be Facebook, MySpace and Friendster.

Facebook: “Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.”

MySpace: “MySpace is an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends.Users can create a community on MySpace and share photos, journals and interests with a network of mutual friends.”

Friendster: “Friendster is focused on helping people stay in touch with friends and discover new people and things that are important to them. Online adults, 18 and up, choose Friendster to connect with friends, family, school, groups, activities and interests.”

Part 1 - Social Networking: An Introduction

Do you remember the trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? This game was based on the theory that any actor in Hollywood could be linked through his or her film roles to actor Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. I recall playing this game with friends during road trips to pass the time. You had to really know your movies, and the ability to remember who co-starred with whom. This quirky little game illustrates how connected or linked people really are, through their associations with one another. It’s a small world, after all!

I was reminded of this game after watching Lee LeFever’s video: Social Networking in Plain English. LeFever explains that in the real world, the connections between people are hidden from us. We often can’t see how people are connected, or to whom they are connected. However, when networks of people (or social networks) are displayed on the web, it allows us to see these connections that would be hidden in the real world. Thus, social networks are people networks, which reveal or create connections between people.

“What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, but that is often not the goal, and these meetings are frequently between "latent ties" (Haythornthwaite, 2005) who share some offline connection. On many of the large SNSs, [social network sites] participants are not necessarily "networking" or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network” (Boyd & Ellison).

After joining a social network site, users are prompted to identify others in the system with whom they have a relationship. The label for these relationships differs depending on the site—popular terms include "Friends," "Contacts," and "Fans" (Boyd & Ellison). Many people refer to this as “friending;” which is just a way of noting that you have common interests on a web tool (Learning 2.0 Challenge).

A Brief History

“Social networking tools and technologies allow like-minded people to find each other” (Robin Good). Social networking has evolved with the expansion of the internet:

1995 = founded
1997 = Six Degrees of Separation founded
1999 = Circle of Friends founded
2002 = founded
2003 = founded
2004 = founded
2004 = founded
2005 = Yahoo!360 founded

(Source: NFi Studios)

For a comprehensive list, check out Wikipedia’s list of social networking websites, which also includes a brief description/focus for each site, and its intended audience for registrants.

A Social Network Timeline:

Source: Boyd & Ellison

Monday, March 17, 2008

Educational Uses for VoiceThread

Part 1 - Ed.VoiceThread

VoiceThread has an educational counterpart called Ed.VoiceThread. While still an internet based tool, it is a secure network or closed community for educators and students. It provides a safe place to collaborate on the internet. As Valenza (NeverEndingSearch) explains: “the new web-based, multimedia collaborative network, offers a more secure solution for those who'd like to play in the 2.0 sandbox but have to deal with the realities of district restrictions on social networking.”

Ed.VoiceThread is also described as “a space for creating digital stories and documentaries, practicing language skills, exploring geography and culture, solving math problems, collaborating with other students, or simply finding and honing student voices.”

Ed.VoiceThread is not a free service. This is because many web services with free accounts are blocked by school districts because of online protection policies. Therefore, Ed.VoiceThread offers reasonable pricing for whole-school subscriptions. Ed.VoiceThread points out that they would prefer that the costs of these kinds of safe, effective learning tools should be not fall on the educator. They urge teachers to advocate for this service, and Ed.VoiceThread offers to provide a complete refund to any educator who signed up as part of the “Pioneer Class.”

This option is perfect for schools who wish to use a collaborative Web 2.0 tool, but want to safeguard students against some of the risks associated with publishing information on the Internet.

Part 2 - VoiceThread in Teaching and Learning

VoiceThread was ranked as #24 in the Top 100 Tools for Learning Spring 2008. Wesley Fryer in his blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity also has high praises for this tool. He says reasons for using VoiceThread in the classroom are:

* Digital storytelling is a pedagogically sound activity for learners at all levels in all content areas.
* VoiceThread is simple, focusing on still digital images and recorded audio narration.
* VoiceThread stories are immediately web-accessible via a link or HTML code which can be embedded on another webpage.
* VoiceThread permits MODERATED feedback, so teachers can control text and audio feedback to their students’ shared digital stories.

Fryer also likes VoiceThread because it allows for immediate publishing on the global stage. He also believes this technology will help teachers have "a-ha" moments once they realize how to use it in an instructional context and purpose.

Some suggestions for using VoiceThread in the classroom include:

* Teachers can post an image or video (example: video from united streaming) with comments.
* Student can post comments creating an online discussion.
* Each student creates a Voicethread to discuss an essential question (example: What if images such as … never existed?). Students and teachers can create a discussion with each voicethread. (JAG Stacks)

Other educational uses and ideas for VoiceThread can be seen by browsing through the examples on these web sites:

VoiceThread4Education Wiki: A very useful site with examples of VoiceThreads posted by grade level.

PageFlakes VoiceThread Page: A lot of examples linked to from this page.

Maths 247 Wiki: This wiki is trying to build up a huge library of number problems organised by level and using VoiceThread to demonstrate and solve them.

The Connected Classroom: This web site offers a detailed information, explanations and links for teachers wishing to explore digital storytelling.

JAG Stacks: This web site offers handouts which teachers can use to engage students in critical thinking while viewing a VoiceThread.

The 50 Tools: Alan Levine explores VoiceThread, as well as other tools to build a story for digital storytelling.

Part 3 - Some Final Thoughts

What I have found so appealing about VoiceThread is that it allows users to incorporate so many forms of media, thus, it truly is “multimedia sharing.” Collaboration can center on various media formats; not just one or two. The more examples of VoiceThreads I view, the more ideas and uses for this tool become apparent. While it is perfect for digital storytelling, VoiceThread goes way beyond one possible function, and holds potential for any subject area and grade level.

Teachers who decide to incorporate VoiceThread (instead of Ed.VoiceThread) into their classroom should carefully plan how create identities for their students which will be viewed on the Internet. Photos of students should not be used without explicit signed permission from parents. A good alternative is to create an avatar (a computer generated character), or even a scanned image of a student’s artwork.

This is a media-rich tool which has unlimited potential for teachers and students in both the process and products of learning. There are many "a-ha" moments on the horizon!

Waskesiu VoiceThread

Setting up an account and creating a VoiceThread

Signing up for a VoiceThread account requires an email address and a password. After signing into the website, a person can view several tutorials by clicking on the “Help” tab to get started. It is quite remarkable to realize, after watching the “One Minute VoiceThread” tutorial, how easy and user-friendly this tool appears to be. There are further tutorials offered to explain everything from setting up a microphone, to comment moderation, to embedding a VoiceThread. I chose a picture (from my own photos) to represent myself for my account, and I was set to go.

I quickly launched into the making of my first VoiceThread, which I found quite easy to do. After selecting the “Create” tab, only three steps appear: Upload, Comment, and Share (it is very straightforward!) I already had many pictures uploaded onto my computer from my digital camera, so I decided to make a presentation using digital photos. I discovered that a person creating a VoiceThread has the option to upload many different types of media, such as image formats like: jpg, gif, bmp, and png. Document formats such as: ppt, pps, pdf, doc, xls, and video can also be used.

After selecting my photos and uploading them to the site, I was able to arrange them in the correct order. Next, I used the Comment tab to record my voice with a brief commentary on each picture. I also had the option to type in text, instead of using audio.
Other added features are available to enhance the presentation effect of the VoiceThread. By using the “Doodle” feature, a creator can make drawings directly on the images being viewed, while the commentary is unfolding. Instead of seeing the final product of the presenters’ thoughts, the viewer gets to see the entire process. These “doodlings” brings a sense of live presence, as if the presenter is sitting right next to you. There are several other features unique to this form of media-sharing.

In the last stage of creating my VoiceThread, I chose to make my presentation public, but I selected not allow for outside comments. Next, I chose to embed in my blog. Voila! My first VoiceThread was a simple presentation, but one which allowed me to begin to understand how very user-friendly and creative this Web 2.0 tool can be.

An amazing and unexpected find!

All I can say is, WOW!! Stop everything, and go visit this amazing site right now! Educational Software and Web 2.0

As has been my custom when approaching a new Web 2.0 tool, I tend to look around for tutorials or web sites which offer “how-to” explanations. Before even visiting the VoiceThread web site, I discovered the Educational Software and Web 2.0 web site. I highly recommend this site to educators, or anyone, learning more about Web 2.0! (Don’t worry, I shall return to my VoiceThread momentarily).

I discovered the web site after first finding Suzie Vesper’s blog, Sharing the Addiction. Vesper, an ICT facilitator in New Zealand, along with other contributors, have created this web site with a wealth of information, tutorials, examples and links for educators to learn about Web 2.0. It has many similarities to Valenza’s Information Fluency; another absolute must for any teacher-librarian’s favourites links.

At Educational Software and Web 2.0, I loved the “Online Tools” page, and I intend to investigate it further when I have more time. The “VoiceThread Workshop” (a pdf) is greatly beneficial to anyone who wants to set up an account to use with their students, as it explains how to add identities to your Voicethread for each student.

Don’t forget to “Furl” this site or add it to your!

Multimedia Sharing: An Introduction to VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a Web 2.0 tool which is best described as a “collaborative slideshow.” This multimedia-sharing tool provides a way for people to share images, and then add commentary; a sort of mix between slideshows and podcasting (Educational Software and Web 2.0). As described by Suzie Vesper:

“ is an amazing application that holds great promise for the classroom. A VoiceThread is an online media album that can hold essentially any type of media (images, documents and videos) and allows people to make comments in 5 different ways - using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam) – and share them with anyone they wish. A VoiceThread allows group conversations to be collected and shared in one place, from anywhere in the world. It can be used for collaborative digital storytelling at ALL levels of the school” (VoiceThread Workshop).

Similar to other Web 2.0 photosharing sites such as Flickr, Voicethread allows its users to create “mash-ups;” a combination of things to create or display a thought of some kind. (VoiceThread can incorporate Flickr and Facebook photos). However, photosharing mash-ups tend to be artistic visual creations, and do not incorporate audio and text in the creation.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Educational uses for wikis

In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Richardson describes the student learning which is generated from using wikis: students learn how to publish content; students develop and use collaborative skills; and students negotiate with others about correctness, meaning, relevance.

Profetic's site about wikis, Pedagogical Potential , describes other important educational functions of utilizing wikis, such as: they maximize interplay; work in real time; and are text-based. As best described by Richardson, “It’s a very democratic process of knowledge creation.”

Some Ways to Use Wikis in the Classroom:

* create a wiki to act as a resource list of curriculum related materials for a specific class; this could include text, links, graphics, reflections, videos, powerpoints, audio files, and spreadsheets

* use a wiki as a form of note-taking: compile links to websites, images, books, databases, etc. as a part of one’s research

* for writing workshops where students wish to peer edit

* group work projects can use wikis to share important notes and articles so that no one person is left responsible to be the “keeper” of the notes

* wikis make great forums for teachers to share lesson plan ideas; it becomes a library of lesson plan idea

*use a wiki to present a final project

Other educational Uses for Wikis:

* can be used as pathfinders or subject guides, such as Joyce Valenza’s Information Fluency wiki

* can be used for book talks, such as Meet The Stars: Books & Web 2.0

* can be used as a virtual school library website, such as Acadia Library

* can be used as a website for upcoming events or announcements for classrooms, sports teams, or organizations, such as the ALA Conference wiki

* can become used as a Professional Learning Community, such as the Teacher Librarian Wiki

Addressing teachers’ concerns about wikis

Teachers may see great potential for using wikis with their classes, but at the same time, have some reservations about how they can keep them school-appropriate, and safe from vandalism on the internet. Teachers could choose to use a wiki-site which features a password and login system (similar to blogs) to track who interacts with the site. This will provide a way of restricting those who can edit and access the site; Wikispaces has this feature. (On one the wikis I created for a course project, I set the restrictions so that only those whom I invited could make edits).

Teachers may be tempted to keep a tight control over the happenings of their class wikis. Although there must be teacher supervision and monitoring, Richardson believes that in most classes where the teacher turns responsibility and control over the students, it is usually has the best results. When students have ownership, they will protect and maintain the integrity of the site.

Another concern about wikis relates to how intellectual property is created and published. Richardson explains, “philosophically, wikis can play havoc with the traditional ideas of copyright and intellectual property.” Wiki software challenges and complexifies traditional notions of - as well as access to - authorship, editing, and publishing (Profetic). Using wikis provides even more opportunity for teachers to dialogue with their student about these issues. It becomes important that students know the differences about community collaborations and individual ownership of ideas.

In conclusion, wikis are another web 2.0 tool which have unlimited potential for teaching and learning experiences. My own learning about wikis is presently unfolding, as I am currently using them for several of my presentations in my TL-DL courses. I am fascinated by other possibilites for their use.

Setting up a wiki

Just like many other Web 2.0 tools, there are an abundance of wiki sites to choose from. Wiki Matrix is an excellent site to use to compare various wikis. It provides a detailed analysis of the features of wikis, and which of these features are provided by the wikis you have selected to compare.

Some of the most popular wiki creation sites include: Wikispaces, PBWiki, and WetPaint. While all of these are free sign-ups, a person will have to put up with varying degrees of advertisements on these wikis. For example, Wikispaces offers an ad-free wiki for $5 a month. All sites are very welcoming of educators and students.

My first experience actually using and collaborating on a wiki was for our Assignment 2 group project. Elizabeth created our group’s wiki, so when I “arrived” there, it was ready with pre-made pages just waiting for our research and ideas to be recorded. Our group began at working on Wikispaces, which was user-friendly, but very basic in features and appearance. Elizabeth suggested moving the wiki to the PBWiki site, which we discovered to have a more polished website appearance, as well as other features.

While Wikispaces allows for fast and furious editing, there are some things that I found frustrating. When you choose to “edit this page,” the next page suddenly no longer appears to have the same formatting as the page you were previously looking at. For example, extra spaces appear which were not seen on the original. What this means, is that while editing, Wikispaces is not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). This can make editing a bit of a guessing game, perhaps requiring a bit of back-and-forth until you get the page to look how you want it.

However, WYSIWYG is true of PBWiki. This makes editing pages much simpler. Additionally, the editing toolbar has features such as: colour text and background; font style and size; and other commands similar to editing in a Word Document. It can even tranform your wiki pages into a pdf.

Recently, I had the opportunity to create a wiki on Wikispaces for a group project in another class. It was very simple to set up. Yet, we may select a different wiki site to transfer our information for a nicer visual presentation of our final project.

Despite, all of the little details which accompany editing something into an attractive visual product, the concept behind wikis is very straightforward. As Lee LeFever explained, it’s a simple as edit, write, and save!

The most well known wiki: Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger created Wikipedia in 2001, with the intent that every single person on the planet be given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Thus, when you arrive at the home page, you are greeted with: “Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Richardson says, “…every time you access Wikipedia or most any other wiki for that matter, you do so as Editor in Chief. And it’s that freedom that has made Wikipedia the phenomenon it is as tens of thousands of Editors in Chief, people just like you and me, take on the job of collecting the sum of human knowledge.” Wikipedia has more than 75,000 active contributors, and almost 2,270,000 articles in English (Wikipedia).

Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source for Information?

A typical first reaction might be to question the reliability of something that is open and available to anyone to change. We don’t exactly live in a utopia; people make mistakes! What about vandals? Many people are skeptical that what is made “wrong” on Wikipedia will be made “right” by other collaborators.

However, “wikis are generally designed with the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them. Thus, while wikis are very open, they provide a means to verify the validity of recent additions to the body of pages” (Wikipedia). Most wikis have a way of looking at any recent changes. Often this is a list of all the recent edits. Therefore, a watchful eye can change back anything which has been altered inappropriately.

University of Buffalo professor, Alex Halavais, tested the facilitation of corrections made on Wikipedia, and found that after creating 13 purposeful errors on Wikipedia, all of them were changed back within a few hours. Furthermore, Wikipedia was compared to Encyclopedia Britannica; Wikipedia was found to be only slightly less accurate (Richardson). Perhaps this is surprising to the skeptics, but it does help build the case for the collaboration!

It is interesting to note that Wikipedia is an example of a wiki which follows “soft security” principles. This means that it uses discussion pages, history, policies and guidelines, in contrast to traditional document control with password protected authorization.

While it is important to be aware that wikis, by their nature, are susceptible to misinformation, Wikipedia can not be completely discredited. However, caution should be used in referring to Wikipedia as a primary source. Rather, it provides an excellent starting point for one’s research, by providing background information, which should be followed up and validated by other reliable sources.

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a collaborative website whose contents can be edited by anyone who has access to it ( Will Richardson explains in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, that the term “wiki” actually comes from the Hawaiian wiki-wiki, which means “quick.” First created by Ward Cunningham in 1995, a wiki was intended to serve as an easy authoring tool to encourage people to publish. A wiki is a website where anyone can edit anything anytime they want.

Wikis have all sorts of uses, but they are websites intended to allow for changes. Thus, they are perfect for situations or tasks which require collaboration from a group of people. They allow people to compile and edit each other’s ideas.

Although older technologies, such as email, exist to aid those who wish to work collaboratively, wikis are considered the “new way.” In the video, Wikis in Plain English, Lee LeFever explains, “email is not good at coordinating and organizing a group’s input. Important information gets scattered over everyone’s inbox. This is the old way! Boo! A wiki allows for better coordination. They make it easy for everyone to change what appears on a web page with the click of button.” LeFever also explains in the Wetpaint Wikis in Plain English video, “…a wiki is a type of website where everyone can easily pitch in… a useful and organized site created by a group… its like a potluck dinner on the web.”

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Virtual School Libraries for Teaching and Learning

Ideally, the virtual school library should be a student or teacher’s first choice to begin any inquiry task. If the goals of the virtual school library are to help students become successful learners and give teachers support in their efforts to craft meaningful learning experiences, the site must be shaped accordingly. Successful virtual school libraries are those which help teach and support information literacy.

When users have to follow difficult paths to find information, they are more likely to become frustrated and turn elsewhere. The virtual school library web site should be a resource that allows users to feel confident that they will find guidance, support and quality information. Its design should be organized, appealing, and user-friendly; its content should feature reliable resources, search tools, and links.

Students and teachers have varying levels of ability when it comes to conducting research with the school library web site. Therefore, it is important that the usability of the site meets the needs of novice users, as well as the needs of advanced searchers. Considerations for the design of a web site, as well as the content featured on the web site, should be suited to the needs of the learning community who will be the primary users of the site.

If looking for a list of sites to browse in order to get ideas, one should consult the lists provided at Joyce Valenza’s Models of effective practice site and Rhonda Will’s McLurg Elementary School Virtual Library.

There is a great deal of variety to be found in virtual school libraries!

Bibliotheque Liz Edmonds Memorial Library
Walter Murray Collegiate
Saskatoon, SK