Tuesday, April 8, 2008

PART 1 – Reflecting on Learning about Web 2.0

Introduction: The Learning Curve

It may be an overused analogy, but the image of driving a car at breakneck speeds around an unfamiliar, hilly, and windy terrain would best exemplify my learning journey with technology this semester. (I barely even felt qualified to “drive” at first, let alone figure out where I was going!) But there’s nothing like immersing yourself in something new in order to figure it out, and that is exactly what has happened. I only came close to hitting the ditch once, but I managed to hang on. Thus, I feel it is appropriate to describe some my experiences with the phrase: “the learning curve” to symbolize the challenges of learning about web 2.0, utilizing the driving metaphor. My learning journey has been an exciting one!

Ten Web Tools to Learn…

Ronda’s Learning Curve: how challenging was it?
1= relatively easy
3= moderately challenging
5= very challenging

1) Blogs and RSS
Setting up my Blogger account was actually quite a lot of fun. I was a bit nervous going into blogging, and had some friends on “stand-by” in case I ran into any problems, but I didn’t have any with my blog! The hardest part was thinking of a title for my blog (and I wish now that I had come up with something a little more interesting…) but I was anxious to start investigating the features and settings of the blog.
Learning Curve: 1/5

My fun was cut short when I tried to set up an RSS feed through an aggregator. I really did not have a complete grasp of RSS, let alone all the terminology related to it at the beginning of this course. I was frustrated. I gave up on my first attempt of getting set up at Bloglines. (I had not investigated the tutorials available for setting up an aggregator, which looking back, was an important learning experience for me; this prompted me to seek out tutorials for each new web tool before attempting to use them with the rest of our assignment).

I went through a process of setting up individual RSS feeds to other blogs. I knew something wasn’t right. It seemed like there had to be an easier way of doing this. However, I did not understand enough about RSS to know what that was. All I can say was that I am still grateful to Elisa, who posted about Google Reader in our class discussions, which helped me overcome this hurdle.

I came to understand that there was a difference between subscribing to a blog by setting up an individual RSS feed, and setting up an aggregator. An aggregator allows for ALL of one’s subscriptions to be “bundled” and delivered to one place. By adding a blogroll, you can simply select “Read More” and see the most recently posted blogs. If I were to not use an aggregator, my numerous RSS feeds would be more time consuming to check, as they would have to be clicked on individually. I now realize the powerful uses of RSS feeds, and have embraced this tool as an essential part of navigating the web.
Learning Curve: 4/5 (I’m a little embarrassed by this, but I was quite a novice back in January!)

2) Photosharing
Setting up accounts with Picasa and Flickr was fun and easy to do (this time, I did watch a Flickr tutorial to get me started!) I found that I was far more intrigued by what Flickr had to offer: by selecting “Explore” I was able to browse through amazing pictures, look at maps, check out interesting creative possibilities with “Cool Stuff” and the list goes on. (Creating a Flickr badge was quite enjoyable!)

Since I have only been the owner of a digital camera since Christmas, (and I still am learning how to use it) I did not find myself wanting to explore the editing features of these sites. However, I did find it interesting to read about the editing tools described in the blogs of my classmates. For my basic purposes, I felt that this web tool was pretty interesting, and one which I wanted more time to explore. I also felt that I would like more time to fully understand licensing and permissible uses of photos before using this tool with students.
Learning Curve: 2/5

3) Videosharing
I was worried going into this one. First of all, I had really never spent any time on the Internet looking at videos. Secondly, I had some preconceived notions about sites such as YouTube because of negative news stories which have been associated with it.

I was wowed by how many videosharing sites exist on the internet. After browsing through YouTube and TeacherTube, I began to recognize the educational potential of this tool. Certainly, I am not naïve about the fact that there is inappropriate material on some videosharing sites. However, I think that with some careful planning, teachers can use videosharing in the classroom. I was cognizant of my own school division’s policy pertaining to videosharing sites, as they had only recently lifted the block on YouTube for teacher access. This proves that schools are slowly starting to recognize the potential of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

I found several videos which I felt I would be comfortable using for my lessons. This is a tool I have not used in the past, but now see how it could become an integral part of my teaching practices.
Learning Curve: 2/5

4) Social bookmarking
Social bookmarking was one of the least intimidating and most useful web tools we learned about. I loved Lee Lefever’s way of explaining in Social Bookmarking in Plain English that saving our “Favourites” to our computers was the old way (boo!) and saving favourites to a web site is the new way (yah!) The most significant learning which came from this tool was the importance of tags and folksonomy. I really see folksonomy changing the way people search for materials. It has certainly been interesting to bring this new realization into the context of my cataloguing course (EDES 547) this semester as we discussed controlled search terms.
Learning Curve: 1/5

5) Podcasting
Learning about this web tool was the rockiest part of my journey; the learning curve was the steepest!

Before I explain, I must point out that understanding the concept of Podcasts was straightforward; they are audio broadcasts (similar to radio programs). Finding and listening to Podcasts on the Internet is easy. All you need is a set of speakers! Creating a podcast is kind of fun. On the other hand, publishing a podcast is another story.

After many days of researching and reading about podcasts, I came to realize that one must have a good understanding of several programs and applications related to podcasting. While previous Web 2.0 tools required only learning about the intricacies of one particular site, podcasting requires proficiency in several applications. For me, this included: Audacity, LAME, Internet Archive and Blogger. I watched and/or read about six various tutorials on creating a podcast. No two tutorials were exactly the same. This did two things: it made me very frustrated, and it made me realize there was more than one way to create a podcast. I just wanted to figure out which was the easiest! I literally spent five days of reading and testing out these tutorials.

It was pure trial and error which led me to my breakthrough moment with publishing my podcast. I realized that I needed to upload my podcast onto an internet host site (such as Internet Archive) and then find a way to feed the podcast to my blog. I luckily discovered that the XML code I needed was provided by Internet Archive, and I could easily cut and paste the code into my blog. I had been barking up the wrong tree playing around with OurMedia and Feedburner (as was suggested by one of the many tutorials I had viewed). I was relieved, but exhausted by the time I made this discovery.

Although learning about podcasting may have been one of my “darkest” moments on my journey, it also turned out to be my most memorable. I am so proud that I did not give up, and completely figured out how to finish this task on my own. This may have been another pivotal or defining moment for me on my learning journey. It gave me a new sense of confidence, even though I had come very close to wanting to throw in the towel.

Since that time, I have a much more positive attitude about podcasting, and am excited about using this tool. I was able to use what I learned for my EDEL 561 course, where I created a longer podcast for a presentation. I also published the podcast to a wiki for the presentation. It went so much more smoothly this time around.

Lastly, discovering the fun associated with creating an avatar (Voki) and combining it with a podcast was great way to wrap up my podcasting experience.

I continued to investigate some other ways podcasts can be published on the Internet. After talking with a colleague, I discovered that if a person has an Edublog account, she can upload a podcast directly from her computer. Edublogs provides the server or host that is needed to support an audio file. Edublogs has many other desirable features, but hassle-free podcasting can be added to the list!
Learning Curve: 5/5 (this one was a toughy)

6) Virtual School Libraries
Exploring virtual school libraries was more of a reward than it was work (and what a relief after podcasts!) I recently have become extremely interested in learning more about the design and content which go into school library web sites. I’m surprised at myself; I have absolutely no background in web site creation. However, I have come to appreciate the value in well-organized, user-friendly web sites that are rich with information and resources. Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township High School web site is just one example of the many fantastic sites I explored. I am aspiring to create my own someday in the future. I am certain that I will be pursuing this tool further in the future.
Learning Curve: 2/5

7) Wikis
Learning about wikis was one of the unexpected highlights of the course. I had absolutely no experience with them. Additionally, I had a great deal of scepticism when it came to the most well-known wiki; Wikipedia. This was one of those times where I will admit that I was wrong: there is some value to Wikipedia! The research done by Alex Halavais helped me to accept that there can be just as many inconsistencies in what is deemed to be a reliable source as there can be on Wikipedia. (It is still important that Wikipedia’s information be cross referenced with other sources, but it does have its merits).

I got my feet wet learning how to use a wiki with Wikispaces (this was part of the requirement for our EDES 545 presentation). Our group ended up moving our information over to PBWiki, which I found to be very visually appealing. The overlap and timing of an assignment for my EDEL 561 course allowed me create another PBwiki. This was when I really got the chance to play around with the editing features and other capabilities of wikis. It was very rewarding to be able to use the skills learned in one course and apply them in another assignment. I really got to experience the ease with which collaboration can occur when using a wiki for a group project. Wikis melt the barriers of time and distance; wikis can be accessed at one’s convenience. I look forward to using this tool with students.
Learning Curve: 3/5

8) Multimedia: Voicethread
I am glad that this web tool was saved until later in the course; it was a culmination of many other web tools we had explored (such as photosharing, podcasting, and videosharing). When I first watched a Voicethread presentation, I was a little intimidated by the technical know-how it appeared to require. However, creating a Voicethread was not as challenging as I thought it might be. The tutorials on the site were very helpful. This tool looks highly impressive, but doesn’t require a high level of tech-savvy. I also liked the idea of this type of collaboration tool for classroom use (EdVoicethread) more than other forms of social networking.
Learning Curve: 2/5

9) Social Networking
Here was a web tool which I was completely fascinated by, and intimidated by, at the same time. My experiences this semester while researching web tools often led me to discover the positive uses for social networking. Classroom 2.0 (Ning in Education) is a prime example of a social networking site that works well; where like-minded people with similar goals can converse and share ideas. However, it made me nervous to think about social networking with students in an educational setting. Again, there have been many examples in the news where sites such as Facebook and MySpace have done considerable harm. The issue of cyberbullying would have to be addressed proactively by any teacher introducing this tool to students for classroom use.

For me, the jury is still out on social networks. I would feel more comfortable using a social network which I could create and monitor with my students (such as can be done with Ning in Education). In the meantime, using blogs and wikis is where my comfort level is currently at.
Learning Curve: 1/5

10) Blogs/Blogging for Professional Development
Reading the blogs of other professionals has provided much of the support and foundation for leaning about other web tools this semester. I have found that I have come to rely a great deal on the ideas, opinions and suggestions made by other educators in their blogs. This illustrates a major shift in my thinking: from once regarding blogs only as forums for reflective diaries, to seeing blogs as places to share important findings and information. The shared experiences of other educators have informed my own thinking about education.

Engaging in my own blogging has been by far one of the most meaningful professional development activities as a teacher. I used to dread the journal-like activities associated with various education courses because it felt unnatural. Blogging is more interactive; the comments of others push ideas to evolve. It is not a solitary activity, like keeping a journal. I can envision more future professional development activities for teachers utilizing blogging, which brings people together in a professional learning community with common goals to share and explore ideas.
Learning Curve: 1/5

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