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.

Tutorial: Using Diigo to Annotate Web Content

Diigo, an awesome social bookmarking, annotation, and networking tool, can often be a bit overpowering and intimidating to learn. I introduce this tool in my EDTECH 501: Introduction to Educational Technology course, but I find some students have difficulties even understanding what Diigo is and how it works.

I encourage students to begin with baby steps, first joining a Diigo class group, exploring the tools available for educators, and bookmarking/sharing websites related to educational technology. From here, I introduce them to annotating websites, by commenting directly on their learning logs they begin to create in WordPress. But I find some still need additional support and tutorials to help them use these tools.

Thus, the creation of a new Diigo tutorial (I use Clarify-It for most of my static tutorials now–it’s super quick and easy to use) to show how to annotate web pages and make comments on various content. I’d like to share it not only with my students, but with all of my readers. If you or your students are not using Diigo, I encourage you to set up an educator account (there is a basic free account) and get started. You will be amazed at what you can share and organize, and will most certainly change the way you conduct a lot of research and design group work in your classes.

Using Diigo to Annotate Web Content

Access Diigo Tools

Click the Tools link on Diigo and install any of the tools that look interesting to you.

You should at least install one of the bookmarks, annotation tools, such as Diigolet, Web Highlighter on Chrome, and/or the Diigo Toolbar.

(In this example, I am using the Diigo Toolbar in Firefox on an Apple computer.)

Access Diigo Tools

Adjust Your Diigo Settings

Decide which annotations you want to view by clicking the drop-down box in the Diigo toolbar. In this example, I choose to view my private and group annotations. Private annotations are a great way to keep track of notes about web content and of course group annotations share your comments with the group.

Adjust Your Diigo Settings

Customize Your Diigo Toolbar and Menus

Click Options at the far right of your toolbar.

Click the drop-down box Apply Suggested Settings.

Customize Your Diigo Toolbar and Menus

Select For Advanced Users.


To help you identify the Diigo toolbar icons, I suggest also selecting Show icons and text.

Click OK.


Your new toolbar will now be visible!


Add a Floating Sticky Note to a Page

Click the drop-down arrove to the right of Comment on your Diigo toolbar.

Select Add a floating sticky note to this page.

Add a Floating Sticky Note to a Page

Enter your comments, which will show up as a sticky note on the webpage.


Select how you want your post to be seen. In this example, I will keep it Private.

Click Post.


After posting, you will see your comments, where you posted your note, and also the little sticky note icon on the page, with the number (which is the number of notes you posted to the page.)


When you navigate to a page with notes you have set to seen in Diigo, you will see a sticky note icon with a number on it Hold you cursor over the note to new the contents.


Highlight Content and Add Comments

You can also select specific content on a page, highlight in in Diigo, and then add comments.

In this example, I’ve highlighted new content I’ve added to a Moodle resource page.

When you highlight, Diigo will recognize this and a dialog box will pop up next to your highlighting.

Highlight your text and then select Highlight.

Highlight Content and Add Comments

A little icon with a pencil will appear at the upper-left.

Click the drop-box box to the lower-right of this small icon and select Add sticky note


Enter your comments in the box and decide where you want your comments to be visible, in the drop-down box below your comments.

Click Post.


Your highlighted text will now be visible, with a little icon at the upper-left, indicating there are comments about this highlighted content.


Comment Directly to a Page

You can also comment directly to a page.

Click the drop-down box to the right of the Comment icon and select Comment on the whole page.

A sidebar will open on your browser window to allow you to add annotations to the page.

Comment Directly to a Page

Add your comments in the textbox and click OK.


Your comments are automatically saved as Private. If you want them to be saved to a group, you will need to click drop-down box above the Page Comments and select that group.


View on Diigo Group Library

Of course, anything shared with your Diigo group will also be visible on your Diigo group page.

Experiment with the various tools in Diigo and know how to annotate a page, highlight text and add comments, and how to comment on an entire page. It’s easy and very useful.

View on Diigo Group Library

Scaffold Student Learning: Provide a WordPress Import File

Wordpress, Technorati, GBC stickers

WordPress, Technorati, GBC stickers (Photo credit: Titanas)

This post falls under the category, “Why didn’t I think of this sooner???”

In my EDTECH 501: Introduction to Educational Technology class, students begin the sometimes arduous process of creating and organizing a learning log, using WordPress.com. This learning log can eventually be transformed to a showcase portfolio, a final project required for our M.E.T. degree here at Boise State. I provide a lot of resources, online help, and a sample site (http://edtechbsu.wordpress.com), but I still encounter students who have a difficult time learning how to use WordPress.

Well, I think I’ve figured out a great solution to help all students–and it is so incredibly simple–provide a WordPress import file that they can use for their beginning WordPress.com sites.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I edited an existing WordPress site that includes some of the basic structure to help students get started. All categories are included (these are the AECT Standards aligned with student artifacts), a basic navigation structure (pages), widgets, and a sample first post for their first artifact, an introduction video. Even if a student has started working on their WordPress.com Learning Log, (s)he can import this file and save a lot of time configuring their site. Again, why I didn’t think about this sooner eludes me–I’ve known for YEARS that you could easily import any WordPress site to another one.
  2. Then, I exported this site (go to Tools>Export on your WordPress.com dashboard) and saved the file. I put the file on our Moodle course site for students to download, along with brief instructions. Then, to help out even further (because I noticed the Tag Cloud widget didn’t export and other customizations are still needed), I created a quick video tutorial and uploaded to YouTube.

I haven’t heard back from any students yet, but this should work like a charm–it should help those students who are struggling get an instant start and save others who have started their learning log the time it takes to enter each of the AECT Standards as individual categories.

So, if you are requiring your students create a learning log or other type of journal using WordPress (or any blogging platform, for that matter), create a sample site that contains the basic structure, export that file, and then provide that for your students to import to their WordPress sites. It will save them time, provide the scaffolding that some of them need, and make your life as an instructor just a little bit saner. I said a little bit.