“Whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog.”
Sue Waters and Richard Byrne
As promised in the previous article, I will be covering three presentations in this review of session three from day one of the FutureSchools expo ClassTech conference stream. Initially, I will be reflecting on the ‘ask the expert’ mini-presentation that occurred during the lunch break, led by Sue Waters and Richard Byrne which was about blogging, after that, I will cover the two presentations that occurred session three proper, including 3D printing and the Connected Classroom.
At the end of session two, there was of course a bit of a mad rush out to the expo hall where lunch was being served, in order to get that, and then get to the ask the expert session with Sue and Richard. This was a topic I was keen to hear about, as I had started this blog with the aim of using it as a place of reflection on my teaching practice (which is yet to occurred), to share insights from my teaching practice (also yet to occur) and to reflect on events and professional development sessions, such as FutureSchools, which is, obviously, happening right now.
The discussion was targeted, primarily, at classroom and student blogs, but much of what they said also applies to personal or professional blogs, such as mine. Richard and Sue believe that as teachers, we don’t self-promote enough about our achievements. They pointed out that there is a different between self-aggrandisement and self-promotion, with one being excessive and over the top, and the other being celebrations about successes, acknowledgements of struggles and the little things that make us smile (my interpretation of their words).
There were some pitfalls around blogs that need to be avoided in order to have a successful blog. We need to be persistent with our writing. A lack of comments, shares, or likes, or views does not negate the value of the writing we are doing. Blogs need to have a clear purpose. For those using them as a learning tool in the classroom, blogs need to be fully integrated into the classroom infrastructure, rather than considered an add-on, and we need to provide our students with the tools to understand how and why to use it, and make it a tool that they will want to use.
Pitfalls facing classroom blogs in particular are the optional nature of blogging. If we are going to have our students blog, make it something for which they are held accountable, as much as you would any other piece of learning. The posting schedule needs to be consistent, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly should be negotiable, but it should be consistent so readers know when a new post will be up. The purpose of the blog should be clear, both to the students and to the audience. Sue indicated that classrooms in which blogs are used successfully have set routines and strategies that are used consistently around the blogging requirements, including some schools where the blog forms part of an e-portfolio which stays with the students as an artifact of their learning across their entire school career.
As teachers, we should have a goal for the blog – whether it be a presentation of facts, a discussion starter, or a demonstration of has been learned or achieved. In achieving this, we should not constrain our students creativity by limiting them to literacy skills. They should have the opportunity to use other forms of expression, including vlogs, though there should of course be dialogue around when this appropriate in regards to the age of your students.
Statistically, it appears that for younger students, up to around years five to seven, that the majority of students will be on the one class blog, and that the older students are more likely to have individual blogs. That said, there is some intermingling or crossover of when this shift occurs and would depend on your specific context and your students and community.
Additionally, both Richard and Sue agreed that whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog, so in order to allow students ownership of the blog and the likely engagement that comes from that, it is important to allow students to change things such as the theme of the blog, allowing some appropriate non-school postings as both of these encourage not only ownership, but creativity.
The debate over the public vs private nature of student blogs continues on in various settings (including here, here, here and here) and that decision may be made by the school or education department as a matter of policy, or you may have some scope to make a professional judgement on a case by case basis. As with BYO programs though, opening up a dialogue with the parents and students, about the how and why of the blog, whether public or private, is important to its success and the engagement and discussion that it can foster in the school community. Additionally to this, it is vital to have the conversation about privacy and not identifying anyone personally by name or other descriptors that people are able to know exactly who is being talked about, and there are special considerations to take when uploading media such as images or videos such as not showing faces of minors.
To get the blog noticed within the public sphere, it is important to write, and to write often, but not too often. Richard Byrne is a successful blogger and posts up to four or five blog articles a day, however they are only a few hundred words longs. Alternatively, posting once or twice a week, with longer posts may be more effective for you – it is going to vary according to the individual context. If you are curious to see some examples of how classroom blogs have been sued successfully, Richard has provided a list of examples of blogs from the readers of his website.
In closing, Richard and Sue pointed out that YouTube is a form of blog, or rather a vlog, and that links or YouTube videos can often be embedded directly into a blog post.
Once the lunchtime break finished, it was time for session three. The first presentation in this session was titled 3D printing – start small, think tall and was delivered by Teresa Deshon, Deputy Principal and Kirsty Watts, Academic Dead of Technology and e-Learning, both from Kilvington Grammar School. I have to admit that this session didn’t engage me as much as those before had for the simple reason that I had had no exposure to 3D printing beyond what I had seen on the news.
I can see some applications for 3D printing, however it is not something that I can get excited about at this point. Teresa and Kirsty spoke about some of the challenges of working out how to use the 3D printing technology from storage, to the time frame required to print objects, the safety requirements, getting used to the CAD software and the need for calibration after moving the devices. They also spoke about their successes, which they said included increased engagement in learning by students, by staff interest in the technology once it had been applied to some school projects that were displayed around the school and the different thinking skills that were required, such as working out the best way to print objects that required physical support, such as printing cylinders vertically instead of horizontally to reduce the stress load on their frame during manufacture.
They felt that the 3D printers were being successfully and authentically used, and from the intial seven students they had utilising them, now have a dedicated room to store the printers and their products in, and have now purchased a total of six printers. They were able to implement the 3D printing in cross-curricular ways, and were investigating ways of further increasing their use, including investigating the use of the 3Doodler, a 3D pen.
The second presentation within session three was titled The Connected Classroom and was delivered by Anne Mirtschin. This topic interested me more, as I can see application for connecting with other classes, domestically and internationally for a wide range of learning opportunities in a variety of curricula areas. Anne started out by saying that a connected classroom is one that is not just connected internationally. A connected classroom is connected with its students, its teachers, its parents and its local community – that it is about relationships, a theme that has started to emerge from the conference thus far, with it featuring in Richard’s, Matt’s and Simon’s presentations. Anne also pointed out that teaching netiquette is very important to foster those relationships, especially when forming them with online communities.
Anne talked about tools that she has used, including Blackboard Collaborate, which allows for virtual classrooms, and the use of back channels to allow sub-discussions to go on at the same time, such as additional questions, or insights from students, and that videoconferencing encourages engagement by students when a back-channel is provided for students not engaged directly in the conversation to be engaged.
Anne pointed out the logical nature of using global days to connect with other schools, such as World Peace Day, World Wildlife Day, World Poetry Day etc (a list of World Days observed by the United Nations is available here). She also indicated that video conferencing needed to be regular and genuine, and that doing so would help break down the barriers of geography and language, as students would engage more with others when they were used to engaging with others through the medium of a webcam, and that it allowed students to ask questions of other peoples that would not ordinarily be able to ask.
Some tools that were mentioned as being useful by Anne included Skype, Flat Connections, Backchannel chat, Padlet, WeChat,WhatsApp, QQ International and Viber. This is another area of learning that I can see potential for, but at this point in my career, as a casual teacher, I don’t feel that I can implement in a genuine way. It is certainly something that I hope to be able to implement in the future, but as a casual teacher, I don’t see it being a viable tool.
The next post will be the final presentation from day one of the ClassTech conference stream at FutureSchools, and possibly a run down on the expo, and the networking drinks and then dinner.
As always, thank you for reading and leave a comment. I would especially like to hear from any educators who do use a blog in their classroom, and how you utilise it.
See here for the list of articles in this series.