Blogging and Why We Need An Expanded View

Blogging and Why We Need An Expanded View

How we write online has drastically changed (and improved) since blogging software first began being offered in the late 1990s. Up until then, people had to write in HTML and figure out how to set up a website to publish their words of wisdom. After Blogger, things changed. Just about anyone could set up a blog, especially since you didn’t have to know anything about HTML. It was easy and quick; write and save to an online form and within seconds your words would wrap around the globe.

And then, things starting changing with the advent of social networks. Tools like Twitter and Facebook transformed how we communicated–instantaneously using a limited number of characters. The word “microblogging” came into vogue, and people started posting and sharing those posts more quickly and with more power than through traditional blogging. Has this changed how we view blogging?

There are still major differences between posting to Twitter and blogging on WordPress. Blogging software provides you with a polished and professional website, along with navigation tools and customization. You can post as many words as you want. And you don’t need to be a member of a social network to read and write posts.

However, there are instances where using a social network either in conjunction with or as a substitute for your blog makes sense. When posting to a blog, you might want to enable instant updates about your new posts to your Twitter, Facebook, G+ and other social networks. Or, you can decide to post to your G+ Home page and then Tweet that post.

I guess the main conclusion to this confusion is that whatever you use, you can create an audience for your writing and add to your social networks. In fact, you may decide to have several types of blogs or online writing spaces.

Perhaps you are collecting recipes for a tailgate party and feel that Pinterest would work best. Or, you are writing your memoirs and want them to be highly visible and accessible, deciding to go with Blogger or WordPress. You might want to communicate with your students about upcoming homework assignment reminders and use your class Twitter feed. For your videos, you might want to share and comment through your YouTube channel. For a photo album, you might want to share using G+, especially since uploading of images is a no-brainer when using your mobile device.

Blogging is so much more than posting your thoughts online. It can include sharing images, videos, audio files, podcasts, embedding content from other sites, polling, advertising, commerce, publishing books, creating online newspapers, and stuff I don’t even know about yet. And blogging software isn’t just a series of online forms anymore. It’s sophisticated and powerful—something you can use to build a website that includes powerful dynamic features.

So my argument is that we need an expanded view of blogging today. Blogging is an activity that can showcase many media, serve many purposes, and allow us to express ourselves in multiple formats. It is an activity and a tool—something we can use to empower people, transform lives, and make the world a better place. Of course, not all blogs follow these high standards. But then again, we have the choice to not read them.

What are your current thoughts on blogging and blogging platforms? Has your blogging changed over time?

Teaching: It’s All About Change

Of Mice and Men (1939 film)

Of Mice and Men (1939 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s because I work with technology or maybe it’s just because I always like change, but I’m the kind of person who constantly re-arranges things, clears out clutter, and never hesitates to throw things away. Compared to my husband, who might be classified as a borderline hoarder, I don’t see the use of keeping anything that does not have a useful life in the present or near future.

This must translate to my teaching style, as I always (and I mean always) change some items of my courses every semester. I always want to try something new using rapidly evolving technologies, helping my students (who are learning to become leaders in the field of educational technology) understand and apply these principles of change to their own profession.

Of course, embracing change and constantly pushing the envelope of experimentation can get you into some hot water. For instance, you will more than likely make mistakes and provide mis-information at times. You will possibly increase frustration and cognitive dissonance in your students. Students may not like it and blame you for their difficulties. But, in the end, taking risks, embracing change, and using technology in creative and new ways is just what teachers should be doing.

I believe it is only through trial and error, testing our hypotheses, and constantly making corrections and adjustments that we truly learn. Aren’t teachers supposed to be learners too, modeling just what it takes to become a 21st century learner?

Instead of teaching to the status quo, re-using “safe” curriculum and lessons, I argue that teachers should push the boundaries, suggesting ways to improve learning and engage learners. Why do we still insist students read Siddhartha and Of Mice and Men, when there are so many other excellent books that can fuel a student’s imagination and inquiry? Teaching should be about transformation, about meaning, and yes, also about enjoyment. I am reminded of a very powerful statement written by one of my current students: “An important, often forgotten element of all lesson plans should be the question ‘Am I excited about this?'” (You can read Dave’s tweets @daveguymon).

No one is perfect. As teachers, we strive for perfection, accepting that we might never truly reach it, but trying all the same. Might change and the desire to take risks in teaching help us reach this goal of perfection–that moment when our teaching captures the epiphany of learning and inspires our students to assume more autonomy and leadership? That’s probably the goal behind my desire to always try new things, to always keep changing my courses and how I teach. At least I’ll keep telling myself that when the end of course student evaluations come rolling in.

Technology in Idaho Schools: Creative Solutions

Technology Map - Tutornet

Technology Map – Tutornet (Photo credit: steven w)

It’s exciting news–Idaho teachers are making real progress using technology. During this past summer, 11 Idaho schools were awarded a total of $3 million as part of the Idaho Technology Pilot Grant. Successful grant applicants were to include a high level of technology integration in their proposals, in order to have the best chances of being selected.

And, for the most part, the technology projects were innovative and aligned with students’ needs and instructional goals. For instance, the Kuna School District wanted to continue its use of Google Chromebooks (which I have been writing about since they were introduced), designing a 1:1 program for its middle school. This project is aimed at improving math proficiency, but I’m willing to bet it will improve many facets of the school day and beyond.

One of the reasons I get so excited about Google Chromebooks in education is their sheer power, flexibility, and affordability. A Chromebook can be used in almost all of a student’s daily activities. They are durable and have a long battery life. They don’t require software updates or anti-virus programs, as all updates are done in the Google cloud. Students’ work can be stored in Google Drive. It’s a tool that can greatly increase engagement, productivity, learning, creativity, collaboration, communication.

The teachers at Kuna Middle School will take advantage of the tools available through Google Apps for Education–all free tools that can save a school tens of thousands of dollars in software costs. Add these savings to the reduced costs of IT support (no need to upgrade programs, computers, install software, create networked drives), and it’s a no-brainer.

How else might we cut technology costs at schools?

We could eliminate a lot of the proprietary tools Idaho schools are using. The State of Idaho recently (well in the last year of so) purchased a statewide license with Blackboard, a proprietary course management system. While Blackboard gave them a “deal,” it still cost Idaho taxpayers a chunk of change. Were there other tools that should have been explored and tested?

And what about software that allows parents to view their child’s grades? These licenses are not cheap, either. Might there be an open-source alternative–a better way to do this?

Can we keep more money in Idaho?

How about funds that are leaving our state and going to schools like Brigham Young? High school students who need to earn credits in certain courses are encouraged to take independent study courses online from BYU: Why can’t the State of Idaho offer these courses and use these funds for technology education or other educational uses?

Let’s save money, then turn around and use those savings efficiently and effectively.

I’m all about saving money when the options are just as good or better with free or affordable solutions. In other words, the solutions have to make sense. From what I can see, 1:1 computing makes sense, using free collaborative software tools makes sense, and taking courses online from Idaho institutions makes sense.

So, let’s figure out how we can save money on one end and then put this money into the hands of schools, teachers, and students to spend wisely on technologies that work for them.

One of Best Reasons for Teaching Online

One of Best Reasons for Teaching Online

One of the best perks of being an online instructor is that you don’t have to be anywhere specific–you can do your work from any place that has a connection to the Internet. In the real world of Things Happening That You Don’t Plan For, this becomes especially useful.

It all started two weeks ago, when I broke my ankle. Not a major fracture that required surgery or anything–just a small chip of bone sloughed off of my talus caused by the forceful impact and subsequent twisting of my ligaments, resulting from stepping off of a garden wall onto ground that moved from a few inches to a couple of feet. Being unaware of your surroundings is something we should all try to avoid.

The chip is so small that an orthopedic surgeon had trouble pointing it out to me on the blurry print copy of my X-ray–but it was there, and by golly, I sure felt it. This accident not only caused me great pain–it affected my husband, too. You see, it was a Sunday, and he was just getting ready to play golf. Imagine his despair when I told him he had to come home because I had just sprained my ankle. That is real devotion.

Fortunately, my husband is an active outdoorsy-type of person and has been in all sorts of daredevil accidents–broken collarbones, ribs, and also has had knee surgery. Subsequently, he has all of the right equipment–ace bandages, ice packs, Ibuprofen, and most helpful in my condition–crutches. He had to pick those up at his office before driving me to Urgent Care, so I had some time to focus on deep breathing and appearing upbeat and relaxed–even joking that maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

So, that’s the story–I broke my ankle, I can walk, but still need to use crutches to ease the pressure. But the best part of the story is I can still perform my job with the highest quality. I can carry on without skipping a beat. In fact, unless my students read this post, they don’t even know about my “condition.”

And that’s probably one of the best reasons for teaching online.

10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

During this semester, I’m trying something new. I’m asking students to NOT send me emails. Yes, you read that right–no emails, please. Instead of composing an email, sending it, waiting for me to read it, think about it, then respond, I’m asking my students to communicate with me using Google+.

If you have not used Google+, you should. It’s a powerful communication, collaboration, and publication tool that can not only increase your productivity, but can save you from the email monster.

You can think of Google+ as a communication tool, like email, but much more convenient and with added value and features. Here are just a few reasons I think it’s better than email:

1. You can send messages to one person or groups of people in your custom G+ circles

message google+

Want to send a message to a group of people, but have not created a group (remember we used to call these “distribution lists”)? Send a message through G+ and select one person or circles you have created to send messages. (If you are concerned some of these people are not checking their G+ notifications, you always have the option of also checking “Also send an email.”)

2. You can view your new notifications in Google+ and respond to them quickly and efficiently.

google+ notifications

I find this particularly helpful in staying on track and up-to-date with messages and responses.

3. You can edit your messages.

For an English major, this is indispensable. I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when I’ve viewed an email I’ve sent with spelling errors. With G+, you can always edit your messages, add more content, whatever. Instead of sending yet another email with information you forgot to include, you can edit your original G+ post. How handy.

4. You can delete messages.

Let’s say you realized you didn’t need to send a message. You can delete it in G+. That’s it. Easy.

5. You can mention someone in your posts.

Google+ allows you to add a person’s G+ name (you enter it with a + in front of it) in a post, which isn’t sent directly to them, but alerts them they are mentioned. Perhaps you are referring to a person’s post and want them to know how you feel about it. I guess the email equivalent of this would be to copy someone.

6. You can re-share posts to other people, circles, and/or communities.

Let’s say you just read an interesting post and wanted to re-share it with your faculty group or class community. It’s easy to do that in G+. Try doing that in email (which would be the equivalent of forwarding an email.) Unless you already had groups set up, you would need to enter each email address. Kind of inefficient, isn’t it?

7. You can disable re-shares of posts.

This allows you to not allow re-sharing of your posts. Perhaps you sent a private message and do not want that person to re-share that message. Of course, he or she could easily copy and paste your message and whirl that around the Internet, but this would be unethical and inappropriate.

8. You can analyze your activity in Google+.

Using a tool called “CircleCount,” you can view all sorts of statistics on your G+ activity–what was your most read post, days and times people commented on your posts, the number of re-shares, and other valuable data. In my case, I use this information to plan and implement better communication tactics. For instance, I’ve discovered that most of my students comment on posts during Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with Sundays by far being the most comments. This is not a surprising fact, since most of my students are working teachers who use Sundays and weekends to complete their work.

Another tool called Allmyplus provides additional statistics that help you analyze your activity and identify best practices for sharing.

9. Threaded conversations are easier to follow than email.

Let’s face it–email that contains multiple threads and different people you’ve copied can be confusing and messy. G+ posts are easy to follow and track, and searching within Google+ provides you with more valuable information than searching your email inbox.

10. Email resides in your inbox–Google+ is about reading, writing, sharing, publishing.

Email is contained in isolated spaces–your email inbox. Google+ posts can be private, of course, but can be re-shared and also shared with your custom circles or the entire public–the choice is yours. By using Google+, you are participating in a more varied and dynamic environment–you aren’t working in isolation. People comment on your posts, they re-share them, and you become part of a growing, robust community of people who want to share knowledge.

What are your thoughts? Are you using Google+ on a regular basis? Do you still use email as your sole communication tool? Please post your comments–I’d love to hear from you.