Digital tools for creative reading

Last Monday and Tuesday (February 11, 12), I attended the “Ny Giv” conference in Oslo. “Ny Giv” is a program initiated by the Norwegian Department of Education, aimed at helping Norwegian students who are in the risk zone of dropping out, strengthen their basic reading, writing, and maths skills to enable them to complete upper secondary education. In the first stage of the program, two teachers from each lower secondary and upper secondary school across Norway attend a five-day course (3 + 2 days) where they go through a series of methods that form a comprehensive methodology aimed at helping these students. However, the majority of these lesson plans or procedures would probably work well with most students and can be used with whole classes.

In one of the sessions that I attended on Tuesday, Arne Olav Nygard, from the Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger, explicitly focused on the use of digital tools, thus establishing the link between “Ny Giv” and such tools, which I think is great. In his presentation, Nygard walked us through three free and easy-to-use animation and/or film editing applications that can be used to give students a different perspective on and approach to reading: GoAnimate, Movie Maker and Creaza.

Nygard has now posted six videos that cover the topics of his presentation–one introduction video, two videos on real classroom examples, and three instruction videos. These films are in Norwegian.


And the point of having my students blog would be – ?

As mentioned in a previous post, there is help available for anyone who wants to start using blogging and other kinds of web applications in classroom activities. Before you start blogging with your students, I recommend reading these great tips about what should be considered. In order to succeed, we need to prop ourselves up properly.

I have not yet touched upon the WHYs of using blogging in teaching, though. Will blogging significantly enhance our students’ learning, and are there other benefits that can be harvested? If so, what positive outcomes can be expected? And if not, one is justified to ask, What’s the point, really?

As I get more experience in using blogging in the classroom, I will probably come back with some more comments on this. In the meantime, I would like to recommend this post by a teacher who knows the score: “5 Rewards of Teaching Young Students to Blog.” If you are interested in learning from teachers who have developed a clear methodology in this line of business, reading this post is probably going to be worthwhile.

Should pupils really edit Wikipedia?

In a previous post, The Upside Downs of Wikipedia in the Classrom, I claimed that the use of Wikipedia in the classroom can and should be turned upside down from time to time by having the students/pupils write and edit articles instead of just reading and citing them. You might ask, Is this really practical? Can pupils really edit Wikipedia? What is Wikipedia going to end up like if they do? I believe that this to a large extent depends on how it is done, especially how the topics are selected.

A few weeks ago, I said to a class I teach in both Norwegian and English (K-11/Vg1, Media and Communications): “I am going to present you with a real challenge now. In mid-February, I am attending a workshop to learn about how to edit Wikipedia. This is because I want to teach you how to do this. So the challenge is: Write an article in Norwegian for Wikipedia. Are you up for it?”

They were surprisingly positive. Actually, many of them seemed excited, and no one objected. I went on: “Of course, if you are going to write new articles, instead of just editing existing ones, you have to be really careful about what topics you select.”

We then talked this over for a while. For example, three of them are involved in a band. Would it be possible to make a Wikipedia article about that band? The students spent some time that session brainstorming. When I asked them the next week, almost all of them had an idea for an article. While some of them had found gaps in the Norwegian edition that they wanted to fill (not planning to make translations, though), others had more local topics, for which they perceived themselves as experts to a reasonable degree. So I would say we are ready to go–after the workshop on Friday next week.

To be continued …

Evernote for Getting Things Done

OK, so this post is not going to be about teaching. On the other hand, most teachers and school leaders would value a real time saver, frustration prophylactic, and effectivity booster, which is exactly what an effective time and stuff management system can provide. So here we go.

Many readers will be acquainted with the Evernote app, a handy tool for storing all kinds of information, making it searchable and accessible anywhere. I was a reluctant Evernote user until I discovered a very efficient way to combine it with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) management system. I have not looked back since.

The approach is not by far as mystical as its name, “The Secret Weapon,” suggests. If you want the combination of an empty Inbox and full control, this is where to go. It’s easy: Simply take the time to watch the instruction videos.

How to Get Started – Help Available!

Involving digital literacy in teaching obviously requires both a meaningful didactical methodology and getting to grips with the technicalities. Both the whys and the hows must be addressed before setting off in the classroom. It is nice to be aware, then, that a rich array of help is available online. In this post, I will restrain myself to mentioning only two sources that I have found particularly helpful so far.

The first one focuses on how to master the technicalities of web tools. If you would like an introduction to how to get started with practically any web tool that might stand any chance of being useful in the classrom, Mark Barnes’ site “Learn It in 5” is the perfect place to start. I discovered that the best way to use it if you know what you are looking for is to type a query in the search field. Are you curious about what VoiceThread can be used for and how to get started? Simply do the search and the videos turn up.

The second one is a world-famous blog by the Norwegian school leader and teacher Ann S. Michaelsen. This is the blog that convinced me that jumping onto the field of Web 2.0 with both feet in terms of my classroom practice is both possible and worthwhile. Visit her blog and be inspired and enlightened! I want to recommend three specific posts to have a look at for starters: “Using blogging and Twitter to connect!”“Connected educator!”, and “Teaching the art of discussing” (the latter one as an example of a ready-to-use classroom activity). However, there is so much more good stuff on that blog, and, again, using the search function is practical. I warmly recommend following her blog!

The Upside Downs of Wikipedia in the Classroom

The controversy about using Wikipedia as a source and the debate about whether this is a reliable source of information seems to have calmed down over the last few years–in Norway and probably most other places as well. Instead of banning Wikipedia, most teachers nowadays, I believe it is fair to say, encourage critical thinking and judging sources, whether these sources are online or offline. (Please correct me if I am wrong.)

The question I would like to address in this post, however, is whether teaching the students how to make proper use of information on Wikipedia is the natural end station, or whether we as teachers should prop ourselves up to go further. Is time ripe for looking seriously at the upside downs of Wikipedia in the classroom?

In his book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and BeyondAxel Bruns details the recent (and ongoing) transition in human web-based culture from usage to produsage, the idea being that in a wiki like Wikipedia, and in other web applications, anyone can make the choice to take part in the collaborative process of adding, revising and improving content. (For a short introduction, see the produsage website.)

In this environment, what does it really mean to ‘involve digital literacy in teaching’? (Cf. the subtitle of my blog.) For my part, I have decided to use Twitter, blogging, wikis and even Wikipedia editing in class, in the sense that I will teach the students how to do this and have them use such channels or tools in their projects and in text production and publishing.

In order to be able to do this, I have to master those applications myself, obviously. Thus, I am now embarking on a journey during which I hope to become more digitally literate and able to meet the challenges of making what happens in the classroom more relevant for the student who wants to learn how to use the web for something meaningful.

My goals in doing this are quite ambitious:

  • Create better learning results in my students
  • Work more efficiently and thus save time (that can be wisely reinvested)

Along the way, I will share information that might be useful and helpful for those who choose to follow this blog, including classroom assignments. And who knows, maybe most of us will eventually turn the use of Wikipedia upside down in the classroom from time to time?

Should the roles in the classroom be reversed?

In his 180-page book Role Reversal (to be released on February 15 this year), Mark Barnes introduces a framework that he calls the “Results Only Learning Environment” (ROLE). In the sample that he has published, which includes the introduction, chapter 1, the references and the “About the Author” account, Barnes promises “Change that Changes Everything” (p. 5). This change is, in several respects, quite radical, as compared to the general state of affairs in classrooms. On the other hand, the core idea of the Results Only Learning Environment seems to fit quite well with Norwegian regulations, which require that the competence that the students end up with toward the end of the year be weighted.

In the introduction, Barnes gives a brief account of how the challenges he faced during his first 16 years as a teacher eventually forced him to make a radical change, and how he arrived at his ROLE model. When I get a copy, I will go more into detail. Anyway, this looks worth peeking into.

Meanwhile, you might want to have a look at his classroom website.