Thoughts About Virtual Technologies

November 3rd, 2013

What are virtual technologies?

This week we explored virtual technologies, which include computer technologies used to create 3D virtual worlds, what are called three-dimensional multi-user virtual environments (3D MUVEs). Outside of the classroom, these environments are being used for business meetings (sometimes as a replacement for video conferencing), for social networking (like a 3D Facebook), and even for shopping (like a 3D Amazon). As in video games, those who use these technologies represent themselves as avatars that they can modify to their own specifications. In the classroom, these technologies are increasingly being used “to promote meaningful interaction, collaboration, and skill based learning” (Klinger & Coffman, 2011, p.86). These technologies can be used to create replications of the real world as labs for learning and for creating rich interactive multi-user environments.

How virtual technologies are being used in teaching

The Harvard Department of Education presented two immersive projects that I would regard as useful learning experiences:

  • The River City Project (funded by the National Science Foundation): A 3D world built on the historical, sociological and geographical conditions of a typical 19th century American river town. People in the town are getting sick and the students, using their 21st Century knowledge and skills, are tasked with discovering out why. This link brings you to the River City web page.
  • The EcoMUVE Pond and Forest Project: A 3D world built on the ecology of a pond and forest environment. This world enabled students to explore several of layers of life (including microscopic and atomic life) in the pond and forest environments. Students could see changes in these environments over time through a calendar function. The students were tasked with discovering why there was a fish die-off on a particular day. To see a video explaining this project, click here.

What I liked about these two projects is that the developers created worlds that were very like the real physical world, and they also developed realistic scenarios in these worlds for the students to explore and realistic problems for the students to solve. Students could produce products in this world for others to view and analyze. Harvard discovered that this technology particularly helped students who were failing in the traditional curriculum to become interested in learning and to succeed in developing higher-level thinking skills (as explained in this video). It seems that this technology is good at drawing in students who may otherwise be turned off from traditional school. This technology imitates the environment of the video games that so many young people play when they are at home and with their friends. As in video games, students enter these virtual educational worlds with assumed avatars that they can modify and then use to represent themselves.

The 3D Virtual School for Home Schooling (Wilo Star 3D) extends this concept of the 3D experience to a complete offering of 3D virtual world courses for the entire K-12 student body. Wilo Star 3D directs their program to students who have problems learning in the traditional public school system. Refer to this link for a complete description of what they claim to do. The problem I found with this website was that I could not enter any of the virtual worlds described. I suspect that it is a 3D framework containing a traditional approach to teaching. I could read a lot about the content created but not actually experience how it was presented. When I reviewed the 9th through 12th grade English materials, it was difficult to tell how the Wilo Star 3D presentation differed from a traditional classroom of lectures and discussion.

Concerns with using virtual technologies in the classroom

As one of our tasks for this week, I downloaded SecondLife (one of the more popular virtual world technologies) to my Mac. I then assumed an avatar and explored a couple of virtual worlds. I entered an island world on my first try (not exactly sure how I got there) and had the experience of flying my avatar around and exploring some ruins (which was amusing). There were some other avatars about, but none of them paid much attention to me. Unfortunately, however, my avatar ran into a post that transported it to another rather violent world that killed her several times over (not a very enjoyable experience) and I quit that world as quickly as I could. I tried again and selected a world representing 16th Century England (which was rated G). This world was rather boring, containing empty stone buildings, a few bushes and a ship. My avatar walked about it and opened a few wooden doors into buildings but they were empty and another avatar started following her and sending me chat messages in Portuguese. I did not like that experience much and exited that world rather quickly also. To explore these worlds was an informative experience and, even in that short time, I began to emotionally identify with my avatar. I can see how people get addicted to virtual worlds. Nonetheless, I came to the conclusion that Second Life was not for me. As a digital immigrant, I do not feel comfortable interacting with complete strangers whom I cannot see and who have no clear identity.

As a result of this first experience I probably would not encourage my students to explore worlds from unknown sources, whether or not they are designated with a G rating (for general audience), specifically designated for teens (high school age) and/or claimed to be monitored. I would not want to place my students in such as situation as I experienced, and if I had young children, I probably would not allow them to play in virtual worlds, such as Club Penguin or Woogie World. I do not think these worlds are properly monitored and controlled, and those who are more tech savvy in these worlds can take advantage of those less so. I believe that the concerns raised by the Federal Trade Commission and Meyers, Nathan and Unsworth are legitimate. The Federal Trade Commission concluded that it was difficult to control these worlds and keep out explicit (sexual, abusive, and violent) content (Federal Trade Commission, 2009). Myers, Nathan and Unsworth indicate that a number of factors are necessary to keep these virtual worlds safe for children: the technical design, oversight by parents (and other adults) and monitoring of inappropriate behavior by the users themselves (Myers, Nathan, & Unsworth, December 2010, p.22). They say that parents tend to be absent from the picture and need to be more present overseeing what their children are doing.

According to the Horizon Project, the value of virtual worlds is in the opportunities for social networking and communication they provide, not in the physical environment created. The Horizon Project says that participants return again and again for the experiences with others shared within these spaces (Horizon Project, 2011). Although my experience was contrary to this, it was very short and I was uncomfortable with the technology and the worlds I entered. I expect that their conclusion could become true for me also if I found the right community.

How virtual technologies can be used in my teaching

When teaching English, I would only use closed virtual worlds, worlds that I created specifically for my students or worlds created by other teachers I could trust, such as the River City and EcoMUVE Pond and Forest projects. In my explorations and I did quite a bit, I did not come across any applications of virtual worlds to the teaching of English that were of the quality of the two Harvard projects just mentioned. My impression is that MUVEs are not suited to the teaching of English Literature or writing. When teaching English, the goals can be more easily and clearly met with other technologies. I think the reason for this is that English literature is a two-dimensional medium by definition. It focuses on text, and the creation of text, and it does not involve the solving of 3D problems in the same way as occurs in the traditional sciences or even in history. When you are learning to read and analyze a piece of literature, you are learning to recreate in the mind’s eye a 3D visualization of the world of the book or poem. This visualization, however, is personal and is going to differ from person to person, student to student. The whole point is to learn to do this on one’s own. Once someone creates a 3D representation of a book, poem, or play in a MUVE, the work is done, the interpretation is made, and the students are no longer encouraged to do their own thinking. The interest in studying literature is in the multiplicity of interpretation. The way to incorporate this virtual technology would be to have the students create their own MUVEs; in this way they would be thinking creatively. I think, however, that the technology is too involved and would take too much time. The students would have to be programmers first before they came to English class. It would be easier to have the students create their own movies or plays of a book to reach the goal of encouraging individual interpretation. One could transport students to the world of a book (such as the river towns in Huckleberry Finn) and have the students explore that world; however, I think that a Google Trek or Google Earth Lit Trip would be a more efficient use of time for a literature classroom. You could create virtual discussion and work rooms and have students transport their avatars there to discuss books, write compositions, and listen to lectures. That application might be most useful if you were teaching students from many remote locations or students who were particularly shy (or turned off) in the day-to-day classroom. It might be useful to do this for differentiated instruction, for students who respond best to the world of the video game as with the Wilo Star 3D students.

I can see MUVEs as more naturally suited to teaching English as a second language or for teaching students a foreign language because you could create controlled worlds and situations to encourage students to learn a new language in them. In a regular French class, for example, students will tend to speak English if they cannot understand the French or remember the French expression. With a MUVE, however, you can create a virtual French house in which all entrants have to speak and write only French. You could create a virtual Paris and have your students transport their avatars there with the restriction that they can chat only in French. They could then explore the city and report their observations back to their class in French.


From the resources I viewed and experiences I had, I believe that this virtual technology, in its current form, is best suited to teaching scientific principles (enabling students to learn through discovery and to solve problems) and for differentiated instruction for those students who find traditional classrooms to be boring and are unable to learn in them. I agree that these virtual technologies have a lot of promise ” to fully engage students and enhance teaching and learning” (Coffman & Klinger, 2007, pp. 29-30), and I also agree that ” as educators, we do need to continually explore new strategies and methodologies to engage students in the process of learning and to create learning environments and opportunities that blend both technology tools and collaborative methods of teaching and learning (Coffman & Klinger, 2007, p.32).  Nonetheless, I would not rush to implement these technologies for the teaching of English, because in so doing I may be using technology for technology’s sake, not using it to advance curriculum goals. I also believe that this technology is better used to supplement classroom activities and lectures, not necessarily as a complete replacement for them. I would use virtual technologies as a way to create a lab or an experience I could not create easily in the classroom and as a way to test principles and illustrate ideas already introduced in other activities in the classroom.


Coffman, T. & Klinger, M.B. (2007). Utilizing virtual worlds in education: The implications for practice. International Journal of Social and Human Science, 1(55), 301-305.

Federal Trade Commission. (2009). Virtual worlds and kids: mapping the risks: a report to congress. Retrieved from

Horizon Project. (2011). Virtual Worlds: What are virtual worlds? Horizon Project. [Wiki]. Retrieved from

Klinger, M. B., & Coffman, T. L. (2011). Emphasizing diversity through 3D multi-user virtual worlds. In G. Kurubacak, & T. Yuzer (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Transformative Online Education and Liberation: Models for Social Equality. (pp. 86-106). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-046-4.ch00

Myers, E.M., Nathan, L.P., & Unsworth, K. (December 2010). Who’s watching your kids? Safety and surveillance in virtual worlds for children. Journal of Virtual World Research, Vol. 3 (2). Retrieved from


Thoughts About the Mini Project II Technology

October 27th, 2013

Using Mini Project II Technology with Students

This week we explored the following technologies:

  • Creating a Timeline
  • Creating Art, Music and Literature Tours on Google Earth
  • Real World Math/Science on Google Earth
  • Using Google Fusion Tables
  • Creating a Google Trek

All of these technologies can be used in ways to foster the inquiry mindset in our students and to get our students more deeply and seriously engaged with learning. We can use these technologies to create realistic scenarios for our students to explore. These technologies can help our students see the real-world applications behind the academic exercises. In turn, our students can use these technologies to create their own scenarios and meaning. As long as problems with implementing the technology can be controlled and the technology can be used seamlessly to “communicate, analyze, and present information” and “further engage…students in inquiry” (Coffman, 2013, p. 153), we can use these technologies successfully. We do not want any difficulties with using the technology to interfere with student learning.

Of these technologies, I spent most of my time with Creating a Timeline, Creating Literature Tours on Google Earth, and Creating a Google Trek because I thought that these technologies would lend themselves best to the teaching of English. What these three technologies have in common is the concept of a timeline. A timeline lends itself well to studying literature since many literary works tell stories that can be mapped to timelines. It is often a useful exercise to outline the events of a novel, short story or poem because it helps with interpretation. The Google technology (Google Earth and Google Maps) provides the added benefit of space; in addition to following the chronology provided by the timeline, you can link events to particular places (real or imaginary). Setting and geography influence history and culture, which in turn influence character development. All of these factors are important to literary exegesis.

Choosing Google Trek

I considered using Google Earth to create a Google Literature Trip but I thought that a week might be insufficient time to learn the Google Earth technology and to complete the Web research for creating the trip so I opted for creating a Google Trek. In other words, the difficulties of troubleshooting the technology may overwhelm the actual production of the Lit Trip. I thought that the Google Map technology would be easier to use and that I could create a similar type of exercise, if not as rich. In addition, I liked the idea of the simplicity of a Google Trek. Google Trek is more like an outline with a photograph album and Google Earth is like being immersed in a 3-D movie. I felt that all the satellite imagery and realistic pictures of the earth would interfere with my focus. I wanted my students to spend more time imagining the United States as it was 170 or so years ago, not as it is today. With Google Maps it is easier (in my opinion) to get the overview of the geography, which suited my particular focus in this exercise (getting an overall sense of the shape of the Mississippi River and where the events happened along it). The zoom feature works quickly; you can easily zoom in and out to get an overall outline of an area and then a closer view of a particular area. I believe that Google Earth is better for close-ups, looking at a specific geographical area and studying it in detail.

My Experiences with Google Trek Technology

Google Trek technology is relatively easy to use but is limited in functionality. The amount of text that can be entered at each location is small (a couple of sentences at most). I suspect that Google Earth would allow for more description. I discovered that when I first entered text into Google Trek, the program would accept a fair amount of text, but when I returned to edit the entry, the program wouldn’t cooperate; the scroll bar would not scroll down, so I couldn’t move my cursor to the text I wanted to change. Sometimes I would close Google Maps and then restart it and afterwards I could do some editing. Frequently, however, I had to delete the earlier version and re-enter the text from scratch. I discovered that I could use the HTML editor for changing a few words. It was a painfully slow process to put together the Google Trek. In addition, I had to combat interference from Google Maps itself. Every time I entered Google Maps, Google requested that I load the updated version without the My Places functionality. Of course, I refused since I wanted to finish this project. It is rather maddening to have one’s software start disappearing in the midst of a deadline. I suspect that Google is phasing out the old version of Google Maps.

Using Google Trek Technology with Students

I think that Google Trek is a useful technology for students of English, because it is relatively simple to use and it is a natural way to get students to think about the historical time and geographical place of a work of literature. Many works of literature can be linked to time and geography, and reflecting about these two issues can help students have a better understanding of the work as a whole. Oftentimes, students will rush to the end of a book, focusing more on plot and what happens to the characters, rather than on other important issues, such as setting, language, themes, structure, etc. Google Trek is a way to experience and visualize what has always been vaguely called ‘setting;’ it forces the student to take the time to create pictures in the mind’s eye out of words on the page.

For this exercise I created the Google Trek as a WebQuest, “an active learning activity where students use the Internet to access relevant and up-to-date information and then apply that knowledge through critical thinking…” (Coffman, 2013, p. 59). Although this is not as an elaborate a quest as Coffman defines it. I designed this activity as a self-contained lesson in which the students discover the significance of the Mississippi River to the structure and symbolism of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by seeing the events unfold along the geographical space determined by the river and by having them connect to many resources that provide historical and cultural information about that space.

Within the Google Trek itself are a worksheet and essay questions that the students should be able to complete by exploring the Web connections also available from within the Trek. I wanted my students to get a better sense of the life and times of the novel, in particular the historical realities of Antebellum U.S. history and culture. You may connect to my Google Trek by selecting this link:

I spent most of my work with the Huckleberry Finn Google Trek in two ways:

  • First, pinpointing the stops along the Trek. (Since there is some debate among scholars as to where some of the fictional towns and events in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are actually located geographically and since I am a student of American literature, I found this part of the task to be a lot of fun.)
  • Second, researching the Internet for appropriate links explaining each of the stops along the Trek.

Although I know this book fairly well, the exercise of pinpointing the events to precise locations along the Mississippi River encouraged me to spend more time with the novel and to understand even better the world of the Antebellum South that Mark Twain recreated. I learned a few more details about the Mississippi river than I knew before and I am hoping my students will benefit from this research discover knowledge from the resources provided. In the future I plan to have my students create their own Google Treks as a way for them to more fully and personally experience a particular piece of literature.


Coffman, T. (2013). Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students. 2nd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Thoughts About the Mini Project I Technology

October 20th, 2013

Using Mini Project I Technology with Students

This week we explored the following technologies:

  • Digital Stories: using technology (digital images, sound, and text in combination) to tell a story
  • Text Maps: creating a word cloud from a body of text
  • Podcasts: a semi-professional way to create an audio recording for general distribution
  • Talking Avatar: a cartoon-like figure that can be used to deliver short messages or lessons
  • Telling a Story with Comics: delivering lecture material, stories and information in the form of a digital comic strip

All of these technologies are quite interesting and have the potential to inspire a love of learning and inquiry learning in the classroom as defined by Coffman (2013). Podcasts and Digital Storytelling, in particular, are good ways to flip the classroom because these technologies allow teachers to produce lecture material and instructions for students to view or listen to when away from the classroom. These two technologies can also be used for students to express themselves creatively and are particularly suited to literature and writing assignments. I might use Text Maps as a way to start a class discussion about a work of literature or an article, since Text Maps highlight the most important words in a document and put them into a visual. Text Maps could also be used as a writing prompt; the students could take the most prominent words and free write about them. I am less likely to use the two remaining technologies, Talking Avatars and Telling a Story with Comics, because I believe that these two are more suited to Elementary and Middle School classes than to High School students. I might use the Talking Avatar, however, as a way to have High School students introduce themselves to each other at the beginning of the year as we have been tasked to do on the About page of our ePortfolios. The students could probably enjoy choosing an avatar and they could learn a little about marketing and presentation from such an exercise. I might also give my students an opportunity to tell a story with comics (as a differentiated assessment task) particularly since I think that my male students may favor this form of expression. For example, if I assigned the students the task of telling a personal story, I may give them several forms in which to tell the story, of which Telling a Story with Comics, would be one of the choices.

After reviewing these technologies I held an internal debate between creating a Digital Story or a Podcast as my Mini Project because I felt that I could deliver substantive English content better with either one of these technologies (as opposed to the other four). Digital Story technology appears to be, at first glance, an extension of the Curricular Music Video technology. The Digital Story technology includes voice along with images and text; in essence, it enables you to create a movie, a very powerful way to tell a story or deliver a lecture. On the other hand, Podcasts focus mostly on audio but can include some images (if you so desire). Podcasts enable you to record audio (voice and music) for general distribution. They are less involved and a little more flexible than digital storytelling. You invest in digital storytelling when you need to tell a dramatic story; on the other hand, Podcasts can be long or short; they can tell a whole story, deliver an hour lecture, and contain a long interview with an author, or they can be short commentary on just about any topic. I chose to do a Podcast primarily because I was unfamiliar with this technology, it appeared to be flexible, and I wanted to explore its potential for application in the Language and Literature classroom.

Using Podcasting with Students

Podcasting is a valuable technology for the teaching of English literature and writing. It can be used for recording lectures, telling stories, dramatizing text, interviewing, reporting facts, just about anything you can use the human voice to do. The value of the Podcast for students is that it teaches them how to speak better and to read better. It enables them to manipulate their voices in dramatic ways and to improve their ability to present text and to present themselves. Voice, when used properly, can be a powerful persuasive tool. The power of the Podcast is that it can be distributed to a wider audience than just the teacher. Having a wider audience encourages the students to focus on the academic task, to produce a better product and to spend more time planning, revising and polishing the production (Solomon & Schrum, 2010, p. 52). Solomon and Schrum devote an entire chapter to Podcasting and list some useful web sites and advice. Here are two recommended sites that archive Podcasts:

Solomon and Schrum also say that students can create and listen to Podcasts on their cell phones (Solomon & Schrum, 2010, p. 53); I would like to explore this application further because I am interested in integrating cell phone use into legitimate academic tasks in the classroom.

For my mini project, I decided to use Podcasting as a way to dramatize text and then analyze it (a typical requirement in the English curriculum). The goal of the project was to get the students to select a small portion (less than a page) of a larger text, read it out load in a meaningful way, and then explain why they chose the passage in literary terms. I was originally going to record both the text passage and the text analysis but actual production took longer than I thought it would so I made a Podcast only of the text passage. Choosing a significant passage and dramatizing it is an important part of the task. Just choosing the passage takes skill. I decided to leave the analysis in a Word document. After I and my students become more skilled with audio editing technology, I would ask for two Podcasts, one of the reading and a second for the interpretation. Here’s the link to my Podcast:


My Experiences with Podcasting Technology

I did not find Podcasting easy. If I assigned Podcasting projects in my classroom, I would devote at least one class period to teaching my students how to use the technology. Having a certain skill with techniques for editing audio and knowing specifically how to plan ahead can make the process proceed more smoothly.

Learning how to Podcast was a Problem-Based Activity as defined by Coffman (2013). For me, each step of the process required research and strategy to get to the end goal of a Podcast that could be linked to my ePortfolio. As in a Problem-Based Activity I chose the end goal and was cognitively engaged every step of the way (Coffman, 2012, p. 131); each step required initial research which generated more questions that needed to be answered before I could proceed to the next step which required more research and more questions answered. Now that I am in the end stage I find myself evaluating what I could have improved upon.

Before I started producing my final Podcast, I created a test Podcast where I learned how to use the software. I researched the Audacity software and decided to use Garage Band instead because one of the referenced Audacity Web sites said that Audacity on the Mac may not allow for the inclusion of music files. I knew that Garage Band would work on the Mac even though I had never used it. I discovered during my test of the Garage Band software that cutting and patching together audio often resulted in problems. I found it difficult to isolate audio and cut out the exact sound I wanted to eliminate. Occasionally I cut out an important word. I was able to cut out a few “ums” and “ahs” but the end result sounded a bit choppy and there were a few abrupt jumps. One of the training videos I found on the Web suggested creating a white noise track to fill in between cuts; this white noise, which is copied from the white noise on the main track, can smooth out any jumps or choppiness that can occur during the editing process.

In addition, I discovered in my research that it is better to plan out what tracks you want to record before you start and to enter them in a logical order during production because it is easier to manipulate changes to them during editing. It also became very clear that precise planning of content was crucial. I wrote and edited the script in Word and read the material many times to get my emphasis right before actually recording. I wanted to avoid a lot of audio editing. When I saved the file as an mp3 file for uploading to my ePortfolio, I discovered that Google Sites no longer supports audio files. I did some more research and discovered that Garage Band files can be loaded into iMovie with an image and then uploaded to Youtube, which Google Sites accepts. And so I did some more research. I found an image of an advertisement for the orginal magazine serialization of Great Expectations that had a Creative Commons licence, which I subseqently loaded into iMovie. I then attached the Podcast to it, saved the file as a .mov file and uploaded it to YouTube for inclusion in my ePortfolio as a YouTube url. Later, I read that some people use iMovie directly for creating Podcasts, an approach that I might explore further in the future.

All in all, producing a Podcast for dissemination was quite a process. Nonetheless, I think the work was well worth the effort. Now that I am more knowledgeable about the technology, I intend to use it in my classroom. Podcasts have the great potential to get students actively involved in the creative process and to learn how to present themselves professionally.



Coffman, T. (2013). Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students. 2nd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Solomon, G. & Schrum, L. (2010) web 2.0: how-to for educators. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).


Shared Sticky Notes

October 12th, 2013


This week in INDT 501 we were tasked to obtain an account in Padlet (formerly Wallwisher), select a topic of interest, and collaborate with others to create a wall of shared sticky notes on the topic. I chose to create a wall on definitions of and examples of poetic terms (such terms as ballad, lyric, imagery, simile, metaphor, etc.). I chose this topic because I am interested in teaching poetry and thought that this exercise might be a good way to introduce the topic of poetry to students by getting them to collaborate on defining elements of poetry and searching on the Internet for examples of the terms defined. I wanted to test out the concept with my INDT501 class.

I started the exercise by retrieving an image from the Internet (with the appropriate Creative Commons license) called “Poet’s Corner,” which I attached to the title, “Poetry Terms.” I then selected a wall background that looked like parchment and started populating my wall with definitions and examples of poetic terms. I included videos and web pages in addition to definitions in order to inspire my contributors to do likewise. For example, I wrote a definition of a ballad and also included a link to a YouTube video of Johnny Cash singing a ballad. I thought that it would be a more interesting wall if it were media rich including videos, podcasts, images, presentations, and Web pages in addition to text definitions. The Web provides many examples of poetry and poetic definitions for sharing. The following is the URL for my wall:

After populating my wall with some post-its, I invited my online INDT 501 class to post to my wall. I then sent email requests to two other graduate students with specializations in English in the College of Education at UMW to post. In addition, I sent a tweet to the #indt501 group asking for contributions.

Value of Digital Shared Sticky Notes as a Collaborative Tool

Paper post-its in and of themselves were a great invention. I use them all the time to label files and piles of paper as well as quick reminders to do something or to remember an idea. Digital post-its expand the concept of the post-it by converting it into a collaborative tool. Post-its were used for group-thinking before, but they become much more useful in that way on an electronic wall (as opposed to a bulletin board or white board) because collaborators no longer have to be in the same room at the same time; in fact, collaborators can brainstorm from across the county or even the world

The value of the sticky notes rests in their smallness and flexibility: the expectations for contributing content are low. Having a big piece of blank white paper or a huge blank wall to fill in is more intimidating to a group and a larger threshold to overcome. Psychologically, the blank wall demands the *Big Idea* and a complete production right away. The sticky notes, however, are more informal and disposable and so individuals feel comfortable contributing smaller ideas when it is convenient for them; these smaller ideas can be merged later into larger concepts or reorganized into new categories for further expansion. Individuals within a group will be more willing to write a short note on a digital post-it than attempt to fill up a blank whiteboard because it is easier, quicker, and more flexible. It requires less time from any one individual. If many people contribute to the project, the project benefits from the ideas from a vast array of different points-of-view. Later, the managers of the wall can build a plan or project from lots of small notes that can be easily moved around and reorganized. If a particular note does not fit the overall scheme, it can be easily thrown away. It’s a bottoms-up tool, a fun way to collect data flexibly from individuals in a group.

In addition, shared sticky notes could be an activity completed before using a mind map tool. Writing sticky notes and moving them about are simpler tasks than using most of the mind map tools. With sticky notes, you do not have to fuss with lines and boxes that, in my experience, often get tangled up. Sometimes, when you first start brainstorming you do not know how categories relate. With Padlet, individuals can brainstorm ideas and not worry about organization. Once they have formalized their ideas and have an initial organization for their project or paper, they can transfer their ideas to a mind map and refine them further by using the mind map lines and arrows to show relationships among the ideas generated.

Ways to Use Shared Sticky Notes in the Classroom

Digital shared sticky notes can be useful for all kinds of brainstorming, planning, and prewriting exercises in the classroom. I can think of many ways in which digital shared sticky notes can be used in my English classes:

  • Group introduction to a topic (as with the poetry definitions discussed earlier)
  • Group response to a presentation or a movie shown in class or for homework
  • Group response to an argument in an essay
  • Group brainstorming for a group project (planning of activities)
  • Group or individual review of a book, play, poem read for class (short responses could be entered on post-its)
  • Individual brainstorming of ideas for a paper (thesis, main points, and even some content)
  • Class question board (students can post questions on assignments they want answered in class)
  • Class idea board (students post ideas for ways to improve class procedures, or activities they would like to do in class)
  • Individual record of books read (for an assignment to read books outside of class)
  • Class message board (where teacher and/or parents can post messages)
  • Class inspiration board (where teacher and students can post inspiring messages)

In short, Padlet (shared sticky notes) is a very flexible tool with many uses in the classroom.


To Flip or Not To Flip

October 3rd, 2013


Ransom, S. (25 April, 2012). Flipped classroom. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

What is the true nature of a flipped classroom?

A flipped classroom is one in which the teacher videotapes the lecture material and focuses class time on inquiry learning, hands-on activities, and problem sets. The teacher is a “guide on the side,” rather than a “sage on the stage” (Strayer, 2011). In other words, in a flipped classroom the teacher does not spend all her time lecturing to the students explaining the subject matter and expecting the students to repeat the content of the lectures on tests. Instead, the teacher videotapes the lectures and explanatory materials and expects the students to listen to them and learn their content at home at their own pace. While listening to lectures at home, the students will also have access to their teachers via the Web to have questions answered. The majority of class time is spent on collaborative work and inquiry learning with the students doing hands-on activities and solving problems that may arise from the lecture material. In class, teachers can focus on concepts the students do not understand (Strayer, 2011).

Is this good pedagogy?

When done properly, this is good pedagogy. There are many advantages to this approach to teaching. One of the main advantages is that students can learn at their own pace. Individuals learn in different ways at different speeds, and if students have access to the lecture material at home, they can listen to the lectures as many times as they need to learn the material. It is very useful to have the materials online. Sometimes students may not hear the lecture properly in the classroom, or they may have problems taking notes. Having lectures online as a permanent record overcomes this problem as well as the problem of students who are absent due to illness, sports activities, or any other reason.

Another advantage is that instead of lecturing during class time, teachers can focus on higher level thinking, on applying principles learned the night before to real-life problems, and on inquiry learning. The teacher can spend classroom time focusing on the material that is most troubling to the students. At its best a flipped classroom results in more personal interaction between the students and their teacher and in an environment in which students take responsibility for their own learning (Bergmann, Overmyer, & Wilie, 2012)

In addition in a flipped classroom, students and teachers can create a positive learning community in which there is an ongoing give and take (Kirsch, 2012). When a classroom is in lecture mode, teachers and students are less inclined to interact because it interrupts the flow of the lecture. When students are more involved in class activity, they are less likely to sit passively at the back of the room and more likely to take a more active role in their own learning. The structure of the environment ensures this interactive outcome. When students and teachers can have in-depth discussions about the issues, students learn the content better and teachers understand better what the students understand and do not understand. Through this interaction, an informal formative assessment occurs so that teachers can improve how they teach.

It is only good pedagogy when a need toknow is created. There has to be an integral reason to view the video and do the activity in class other than that the material will be on a test (Miller, 2012). Students need to perceive that there is a value added for doing the homework and subsequent activity. In other words, the way the material is structured and presented needs to create intrinsic interest. According to Miller a way to create a need to know is to follow particular models, such as project-based learning, game-based learning or learning by design (Miller, 2012).

What subjects would lend themselves well to this approach? What subjects would not work as well? Why?

I think that all subjects could be taught, at least occasionally, in this way, but it seems to me that subjects that focus on problem solving, such as math, technology, and the sciences, are best suited to this pedagogy as a consistent approach. The reason for this is that solving equations, solving real-life technical problems and completing labs make up the greater percentage of work done in these classes. Coming up with ways to solve problem sets efficiently in physics, for example, lends itself to such an approach. Any of the lab sciences that require hands-on activities also lend themselves to this approach. The principles and some examples could be treated in lecture material at home, where the students have the time to absorb it, and then problem sets and/or labs could be completed in class where students could ask questions of the instructor as soon as they have difficulties. Working on the problems as a group in class will enhance the learning experience for the students (because they will learn quickly from each other). The interaction in class will naturally help the students retain the knowledge and the skills gained so that they can solve similar problems in the future.

How can this approach be implemented effectively in your classroom?

Because I am an English teacher I will use this approach occasionally (rather than consistently) in my classes. The purpose of many English classes, particularly those related to literature, is to inspire students to talk about what they read. I would probably use other methods than a flipped classroom to inspire class discussion on key books. Nonetheless, some lecture material on a genre such as poetry or fiction could be provided to students for homework before coming to a discussion class. I’m not sure that this would be anymore intrinsically interesting than reading the material in a textbook. It would probably depend on the quality of the video.

I believe that this pedagogy would work better when teaching issues such as writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Grammar lends itself to such an approach. I could provide the students a lecture on passive/active voice and then have them do “lab work” on complex examples in class. I can envision creating a lecture on the writing process for the students to view at home and then have them participate in the actual process in a series of hand-on activities in class. I think that a unit on writing research papers would also lend itself well to this approach. I can imagine putting together a video on how to do research on the Web for the students to watch at home and then have students complete actual research quests on computers in class. As a class, we could troubleshoot problems finding appropriate source materials and develop workarounds to get at the material we need.

What obstacles would you need to grapple with to adopt this approach?

One of the biggest obstacles for most teachers is time. Putting lecture material into videos and then designing activities for the classroom requires a lot of effort and time on the part of the teacher. It is as if the teacher is doing the work of two traditional classes for one. I believe that the work is well worth the effort, however, if it will improve learning outcomes for the students. The most work will occur up front in the first two or three years of teaching. One way to overcome the time constraint is to collaborate with other teachers in the department who are interested in creating a flipped class or in collaborating with teachers across the country who are willing to share videos.

Other big obstacles could be the administration and/or parents of the school if they perceive this approach to be too radical or different from the old ways of teaching. Some administrators may be skeptical of this pedagogy. Some parents may object to an increased level of homework. Kirsch came up with a good way to overcome parent objections. She sent home a video with the syllabus on the first day of class and asked the parents to sign on with the program (Kirsch, 2012).

What would cause you to hesitate to flip or to reject the idea altogether?

I would hesitate to flip if a large percentage of students were unwilling to do the homework. Watching the lectures at home before coming to class would be imperative to the success of the pedagogy. When first implementing a flipped approach, I would probably try it on classes with highly motivated students.


Bergmann, J., Overmyer, J. and Wilie, B. (14 April, 2012). The flipped class: myths vs. reality. The Daily Riff. [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from

Kirsch. (5 April, 2012). Flipping with Kirsch. [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from

Miller, A. (24, February, 2012). Five best practices for the flipped classroom. [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from

Ransom, S. (25 April, 2012). Flipped classroom. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Strayer, J. (2011). Flipped classroom. [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Curricular Video and the Personal Learning Network

September 29th, 2013

This week, we worked on two major technology assignments: our curricular videos and our Personal Learning Networks.

Creating a Curricular Music Video

This assignment taught me how to create a short video with embedded music for introducing a topic or stimulating discussion in the classroom. When I first started the exercise I was somewhat skeptical that it would work, but by the end I was relatively happy with the results produced.

I discovered that most of the work for this assignment was in searching for appropriate images, images that would create the desired effect, that had the proper permissions for use, and that would fit properly into the Animoto program. Once I came up with the concept of what I wanted to do (namely, stimulate a class discussion of the novel 1984 by George Orwell), I sketched a short outline with the pictures I imagined I could find, and then I went to the Internet looking for images. For the most part, I used Google Advanced Image Search because I was able to select the appropriate size and Creative Commons license that I needed to do the video. This saved a little bit of time since I wasn’t tempted by all the images available, many of which (when I peeked) would have been more suitable. As I looked for images I had to change my original plan several times. Many of the images I wanted to use I couldn’t use because of copyright or size constraints (they were too large or too small). Some I couldn’t use because I couldn’t size them properly. Moreover, I only used images I could modify because I wanted to change most of them to black and white via the iPccy program (in order to create the emotional effect of oppression, constraint, doom, and gloom that I associate with Orwell’s 1984). After I found the Internet images, I created some additional .jpg files of text in PowerPoint (including a quote from Orwell and reference materials). After I found and created the images I thought I would use, I created the storyboard. The storyboard exercise helped me to focus more on the effect I wanted to create in the video, and I made more changes to the collection of images (adding some and removing others). Before I started Animoto, I had 30 images and 30 accompanying storyboards. Creating the video in this methodical way helped a great deal once I opened Animoto, because it was fairly easy to load up the images and enter accompanying text. I only changed one image after doing the movie preview. I was pleasantly surprised at the choice of music Animoto provided. I was able to find something ominous and in a minor key to supplement the effect of the black and white images I had collected.

How Curricular Videos can be Used in Professional Practice

After looking at the sample videos, it became clear to me that the value of using this particular tool was for stimulating class discussion or journal writing, rather than in teaching a particular skill. When I viewed the sample videos, I liked those best that created a strong emotional response, such as the video on September 11th. Linking music to imagery can create strong emotional feelings in the audience that, in turn, can stimulate a strong response. I think that this is a very useful tool and I intend to use it in my English classes occasionally as a writing prompt, or as a catalyst for class discussion. I can also envision the tool being used as a quick introduction to a topic.

Personal Learning Network

In addition to creating a curricular video this week, I spent a considerable amount of time putting together the initial layout for my Personal Learning Network. I created accounts in Feedly, Twitter, Delicious, the Educator’s PLN, LinkedIn and Evernote. Each of these tools provides different ways to manage information from and intercommunication over the Internet.

In Feedly, I created collections of feeds on Education, News, Video, and Photography. The Education feeds should be particularly useful in helping me get ideas for creating content and for keeping up to date in the latest trends and technology in Education. One feed provides free technology for teachers and another feed explains how to use technology in the classroom. I have feeds called Open Source (for getting free lectures) and TED Education (for more interesting lectures oriented towards K-12). NPR Education provides news on schools and education issues in the U.S. The value of these feeds should increase as I follow them over time.

Twitter surprised me. It isn’t all lunch and dinner dates. I am following several twitterers who provide news headlines, education news, and literary news. Twitter seems to be a quick way to summarize the news of the day in your areas of interest and get insight where to look for more in-depth information. For instance, there was a link I saw today on corruption in scholarly research; I followed the link and discovered that there are criminal groups in China creating fake journals and research articles which they sell to academics to upgrade their resumes. I am following several literary twitterers including NY Times Book Review, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Kirkus Reviews, NPR Books, among many others. I did a search on the short story and found someone who is creating short stories within the 140-character limit of Twitter, and I’m following him. I added several educators including Theresa Coffman, Kathy King, David Warlick, Vicki Davis, Angela Maiers, Alec Couros and Steven Anderson among others.

I created an account in Delicious and found that it is a useful way to keep web pages organized in one place and do searches on them. I am having a problem that makes it less user friendly: the bookmarklet does not work. I have tried troubleshooting without success. I think that my browser may be blocking it, so currently (or until I figure out a workaround) I have to add links from within Delicious. I need to become more comfortable with tagging, creating appropriate tags, and finding information via those tags.

I updated my LinkedIn account. I entered my work experience, education, interests, skills and volunteer work. I also joined a K12 group, TechinEDU. Previously, I just had a placeholder account with my name.

I joined but did not do much with Educators PLN. I plan to spend more time with it next week, updating my profile, posting and collaborating.

I installed Evernote on my laptop and tested it out but have not used it seriously for keeping notes yet. It appears to me to be an excellent resource for storing ideas and information for later reference. As a digital immigrant, I am still more comfortable generating ideas on paper. It will take me time to get used to the concept of entering notes I create “on-the-fly” into Evernote. Computers have been inherently unreliable. I am always suspicious that something I enter into a program will not be there when I actually need it! Earlier in the semester I read about a teacher who used Evernote as a collaborative tool to have her students create study notes on Hamlet. I thought that was a clever idea and I would like to become more familiar and comfortable with this program, so that I too can use it in class.

In conclusion, for this exercise on the Personal Learning Network, I explored a lot of technology that was unfamiliar to me. This was a mind-expanding experience and I hope to be able to integrate many of these tools that I explored over the past two weeks into my professional toolkit. Although I know that digital natives communicate with strangers on the Internet all the time, I find that opening discussions with an unknown audience to be a bit daunting. I expect that as the semester progresses and I communicate over the Internet more frequently, it will seem commonplace. Moreover, I also expect that as I use these newly learned tools more often, I will find certain ones that I prefer over others.

Information Literacy and Creativity

September 22nd, 2013

What strategies did you use to find information online?

Throughout this week I used Google search, Advanced Google Search, the hints in Google Guide, and Technorati to find the information I needed online. The features in Advanced Google Search were useful to nail down a search in one attempt. For example to find information on whales (only in Spanish), I looked up the Spanish word for whale (la ballena), entered it in the search bar, chose Spanish as the search language, and then entered “- whale” in the Not category. Google found only information on whales in Spanish. On occasion, I found that I would have to do several searches to find what I wanted. For example, when I used Google search to find videos about adding fractions, Google pulled up more sites than just sites containing videos, so I went to the YouTube site and entered “adding fractions” in the site’s search engine and pulled up only sites with videos on adding fractions. I was able to find PowerPoint presentations on Mt. Everest pretty quickly when I chose the .ppt file type in Advanced Google Search. Some of the hints in Google Guide (the Google cheat sheet) were useful for finding specific information. I used the specifier “:author” to look up material by specific authors for inclusion in my custom search engine. I started to use the “:link” command to look up connections to Dan McDowell’s history teacher page but did not execute it because of warnings from my browser. I think that this command is a useful one and would like to teach it to my students for checking out the bias of their research sources.

How will you use these strategies in your instruction?

In my instruction, I intend to teach my students how to search the Web quickly for information pertinent to their projects, so that they do not waste time pulling up hundreds of irrelevant Web sites. I will teach them skills similar to what I learned over this past week, particularly on how to use all the features of Advanced Google Search to get specific information quickly. I would also point them to the Google Guide cheat sheet to find additional ways to narrow their Google searches. In particular, I found the “:link” and the “:author” commands to be useful.

Technorati and the search for an interesting blog

I played around with Technorati quite a bit and found that it was best at listing the top 100 blogs in the categories it tracks and lists in its index. When I did searches on such topics as classical music, literature, a particular author, or specifically on book reviews I couldn’t find much and often when I did I find something, it wasn’t worth reading. I searched for a book critic whom I admire, Michel Dirda, who used to blog for the Washington Post, and I was disappointed to discover that he wasn’t blogging anymore; his farewell blog was still up. Many of the blogs were simply rants and quite boring. These rants, however, as Dr. Coffman suggests, would make good examples of bias and inaccuracy for a class discussion. I found that the popular blogs (blogs marked with higher authority ratings) are popular for a good reason; they tend to have better discussions and are more professionally produced.

When I did an indexed search on books in Technorati, I found two blogs in the top 100 that I liked: and Dan Colman, who is the Director & Associate Dean for Stanford’s Continuing Education program, runs the Open Culture site. The site, however, is not associated with Stanford, but the work of several people dedicated to the idea of learning as a lifelong process. This site provides links to free lectures, eBooks, audiobooks, and movies among other things. This site welcomes commentary and suggestions for more freeware via email. The Book Smugglers’ site is a blog for reviewing young adult science and fantasy fiction. Two young women (in their twenties) who work in the publishing business created this site. Although the types of books they review are not of interest to me (adolescent science fiction and fantasy), I liked the design of their site and they welcome comments.

I made a comment on the book smugglers blog. You can find my comment at this link: I found this site to be very cleverly designed in terms of its imagery, layout, and navigation. The imagery throughout the site matches their title and theme of “book smugglers.” Their theme welcomes their audience into the world of books; they present books as something worthwhile enough “to smuggle.” I like the way they do their reviews; once a month the two of them will review the same book from a slightly different perspective. They review books that are currently coming out and they have a section for reviewing older fiction, called “Old School Wednesdays” (James & Grilo, 2013). They have a place to do author interviews, a place to review books that are being made into movies, and even a place to list prospective books to review, called “On the Smuggler’s Radar” (James & Grilo, 2013). From the commentary on this blog, it seems that these young women have an audience who care about the books they are reviewing. I can understand how many writers of this type of fiction seek to be reviewed on this site. Although these are not the types of books I read, I can envision some of my students reading this type of science fiction and fantasy and I would point them to this site for examples of how to do an interesting book review.

How is information literacy an extension of literacy?

Information literacy is an extension of literacy in the sense that almost all of the information that used to be solely contained in books is now easily available on the Internet. The big difference is that there is a lot more of it, it is in many different forms and it is rapidly growing. Literacy used to be defined as the ability to find, read, interpret and understand written material, material found in books, newspapers, journals, and magazines. It included the ability to know where to find the written material as well as how to interpret it. Information literacy is an extension of this ability because information literacy is the ability to find and analyze information from the Web; most information is now more easily retrieved from the Web than from published and bound sources.

The information currently available via the Web 2.0 is a tremendous increase in the written information that used to be available to individuals just twenty years ago. This abundance of information is growing exponentially. And it is not just words on a page; it includes many different kinds of media in addition to text, such as video, imagery, audio. It takes a proper education and training for individuals to understand how to manage and use this information intelligently, and to be able to create meaning and products from it. An awareness of what is available on the Web and how to access, process, and use it quickly is as necessary today as being able to find, read and understand what was in books a century ago. In order to function and be successful in their future jobs and lives, our students will need to be fluent in the current technologies and be able to find and process information quickly by means of these technologies. Knowledge of and the ability to use such tools as Feely, Twitter, Delicious to help our students manage and keep on top of information will be necessary. In addition, they will need to be flexible enough to keep up with the changes to the technology. As soon as new tools are available, they will need to be able to learn and use them quickly to continue to be literate and to process information. These tools are replacing the old print media; instead of reading newspapers and magazines and watching TV news, the digital natives are collecting news feeds on particular topics on their Web pages. To socialize on the Internet and to belong to learning communities will also be important for keeping informed about the latest discoveries in their areas of expertise.

What are your take aways?

This week I learned a number of important concepts in addition to using Advanced Google Search and Google Guide to refine my Google searches. I learned how important it was to teach students how to evaluate information properly on the Web. Two sources were particularly useful in this regard: the Massey Library web site on evaluating Internet resources (Massey University, 2012, October 25) and Alan November’s article on “Teaching Zach to Think” (November, 2012, February 27).

The Massey web site provided guidelines for students on what to avoid in an individual web site or blog: such things as person bias and lack of personal experience. It also provided guidelines on the types of web sites to rely on in their searches, particularly peer-reviewed web sites, sites that provided references and bibliographies, sites that looked and navigated in a professional manner. The Massey site had a small section on reading urls. It also provided lists of appropriate types of reference resources, such as academic sources and a discussion of primary vs. secondary sources, which is important to teach to young scholars.

Alan November’s article showed how young students can be easily duped by unreliable sources they find on the Internet. He described an example of a young boy who was using arguments from an engineering professor to prove there was no Holocaust. This article provided a very good explanation of an unreliable source, the reasons for why it is unreliable, and how to check out the meta-information on a source (check the url to see whether the source is from an individual’s web page (November, 2012, February 27, pp.3-4). In the old days, when most information was on paper, it was easier to identify reliable peer-reviewed sources. The principle is the same on the Internet, but because there is so much information and it is so easy to acquire through simple Google searches it is easy (particularly for the inexperienced student) to be fooled. In the past, I generally judged the usefulness of information on a site by the nature of the source and the language used. I tended to analyze diction, tone, and logic before deciding whether a web site was questionable or not. Analyzing the url gives another piece of data to help evaluate the information. Google Guide (Bachman & Peek, 2012, February 26) provides a good url breakdown as does UC Berkeley (Barker, 2012). As I pull up web pages, I am now looking more closely at the About section and analyzing who actually created the page (or who claims to have created it).

Another very important takeaway for me this week was the concept of the Invisible Web and the creative suggestions provided by Dr. Coffman to access it. I was always aware that there were official sources of information that I wanted to access, but I did not know how to get to them via Google searches. I thought that most of this information was password protected. I did not realize that more of the Web was “invisible” or “deep” than “visible” or on the “surface” and that it may be possible to access some of this information with a creative combination of terms and Boolean operators. I did a quick search with the words “American Literature” and “database” and found mostly password protected university sites, but one of them (UC Berkley) may allow searches for resources. I have reviewed the websites on the Invisible web provided by Dr. Coffman for our work this week, but have not yet fully explored all the ideas suggested on these pages for accessing this “invisible” information. As I build my custom search engine and PLN, I intend to use more of the suggestions in these web sites to dig for databases in the areas of English and American literature.

How will this aid in your teaching?

All of what we reviewed this week in terms of web searches will aid in my teaching. I will be very vigilant when it comes to teaching my students to do research on the Internet. I intend to unroll the process incrementally, so that my students will gradually but thoroughly assimilate the skills necessary to become digitally literate and to develop intelligent and creative strategies for finding the information they need to complete assignments. I want my students to learn, as I have, that there is much more to finding information on the web than a simple Google search. I want them to become adept at using Google Advanced Search, Google shortcuts, and Boolean operators. I also want them to use other search engines such as Yahoo!Search and Exalead and become familiar with ways to uncover sources in the Invisible Web. As suggested by Dr. Coffman in Using Inquiry in the Classroom, I will probably begin with very controlled web quests before I branch out into more open web queries (Coffman, 2013). I will start my students with a custom-designed search engine, particular topics to research, and controlled exercises. When we do progress to open web searches, I will dedicate time to the careful evaluation of web resources and include exercises on how to read a url. I realize that when students start to do open web inquiries, they will still need guidance on how to focus their inquiry, on what types of sources they should be using, and on how they should present their new knowledge (Coffman, 2013, p. 95).


Barker, J. (2012) Evaluating web pages checklist. Retrieved from

Blachman, N. & Peek, J. (2012, February 26). GoogleGuide making searching even easier. Retrieved from

Coffman, T. (2013). Using inquiry in the classroom: developing creative thinkers and information literate students. 2nd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Colman, Dan. (2013). 750 Free online courses from top universities. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

James, T. & Grilo, A. (2013). About. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Massey University, University of New Zealand. (2012, October 25). Evaluating source quality. Retrieved from

November, A. (2012, February 27). Teaching Zack to think. Retrieved from

UC Berkley. (2012). Recommended search engines. Retrieved from


Digital Literacy

September 14th, 2013
Connan, Marine. (2007, July 12). Bubba, funny cat.

Connan, Marine. (2007, July 12).

An Amusing Cat

This cat, relaxed and upside down on the couch, amuses me. It reminds me of my golden retriever, Eowyn, who is often in this position when she wants to be petted or is in a very deep sleep. I used the Advanced Image Search on Google to find the image. I entered the following search terms into Google Advanced Image:

  • all of these words: amusing cat
  • any of these words: funny cat or happy cat or amusing cat
  • none of these words:  -not
  • usage rights: free to use or share

Google displayed many pictures of cats, some amusing and some not. This picture appeared near the top of the collection. I traced the picture back to its original owner, Marine Connan, who listed the following Creative Commons licenses for the photo: Attribution, Share Alike. I downloaded the photo onto my Mac and loaded it into this blog post with an appropriate citation.

Search Strategies

I used several searches to find this amusing cat photograph. I started looking in the MorgueFile free photo website but when I specified “amusing cat,” nothing showed up. I had to use the more general term, cat. I found a picture of a cat in a tree that I liked but it wasn’t as amusing as the photo I display above. I like that many of the pictures on the MorgueFile website provide download buttons and do not require attribution. I also looked at the Picts4Learning website, and once again I had to do a general cat search, since the search engine did not find anything with the specifier, “amusing cat.” None of the cats there were amusing. I then started looking for cats in Flicker Creative Commons, but I was finding mostly cats that were “not amused”. Next, I did a regular Google image search, and Google found a lot of amusing cats in the Flicker copyrighted material. The pictures displayed in collections with the admonition that “Images may be subject to copyright.” Obviously, I could not use them, even though they were the best collection of amusing cats I found. Finally, I took my search to Google Advanced Image Search. I identified “amusing cat” as my main search item. I then refined the search with “funny cat or happy cat or amusing cat” and “-not” (so I wouldn’t get the “not amused” cats). I also specified, “free to use or share.” I pursued a couple of them to their owners without much luck. And then I found the funny cat. The Creative Common license for the picture was Attribution, Share Alike, so I could use it as long as I identified the owner and used the same license that she assigned for my own use of it.

Importance of Modeling this Search Skill as a Teacher

Modeling appropriate citation skills for our students is important because our students (even high school students) will learn from our example and imitate our attitude. If we give only passing acknowledgement to the rules and bend them ourselves, then our students will not understand the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. We will need to provide many examples in class and provide many assignments that require citation so that it becomes second nature to them. It is much easier to cobble stuff together without citing sources; it takes more work to cite sources properly, so we will need to convince our students of its value.

Let’s face it, the web has been a free-for-all for the last twenty years at least, and there still is a hacker culture out there that believes that anything on or accessible from the net should be free for all. Our digital citizen students (and even some of our teachers) have grown up using the Web in this culture, and so many of them do not know or understand the law. They have grown up freely using the Web and just assuming that everything they see and find is available for the taking. The concept of appropriate citation and asking permission for downloading copyrighted images, videos, software, web sites is non-intuitive. Students need to be taught that since the 1980s anything created on the Web or otherwise, even a student paper, is copyrighted as soon as it’s produced whether or not it displays the copyright symbol (Copyright Education, 2006). Moreover, they need to be taught that just because it’s available, they want it, and they have the technology to grab it, they should not necessarily take it. They need first to figure out the access rights to what they want to use, and then whether its owner would like to share it and how.

That brings me to the concept of the Creative Commons, a way to share materials across the web in compliance with current copyright law (Creative Commons, 2002). This class and exercise was my first introduction to it, and I would like to teach this concept to my digital citizen students, because it will provide them a way to share information, knowledge and products legally. Our students probably understand that paying for and downloading an MP3 song, and then distributing many copies of it to their friends is pirating and illegal, but they may not apply the same logic to videos, images and text that seem to be freely available online without payment.

It is incumbent upon us to teach our students what it means to be good digital citizens, that is, to understand their civic responsibilities and to follow the law. Our students need to be taught how to make ethical technological choices (Copyright Education, 2006). Use of technology comes naturally to them but they need to be taught to value and protect the rights of others, those who have created images, articles, videos, books, web pages, etc., and displayed them on the Web. They should understand that this respect for others and the copyright law would provide protection for their own creations. Furthermore, they need to get over the excitement about using technology for its own sake so that, as we move into the future, we can create a more civilized Web, one in which its citizens make ethical decisions to use the available tools in a lawful manner.  Only by maintaining a fair and equitable way for sharing information can our knowledge grow, which was the original intent of the writers of our constitution when they established the original copyright law in 1787 (Copyright Education, 2006), and it is also the intent of the creators of the Creative Commons in 2001 (Creative Commons, 2002). The growth of knowledge for the good of all is the great promise of the Web, and can only be realized if we respect the rights of all who have contributed and continue to contribute to its development.


Connan, Marine. (2007, July 12). Bubba, funny cat. [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Copyright Education. (2006). Copyright for educators fair use. [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from

Creative Commons. (2002). Being the origin and adventures of the creative commons licensing project. [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from


Teaching 21st Century Skills in the English Classroom

September 6th, 2013

Core Knowledge vs. 21st Century Skills

Two of the main themes that run throughout our readings this week are the importance of teaching 21st century skills and the conflict between teaching core knowledge and/or 21st century skills in our classrooms. I agree that 21st Century Skills are very important, but I don’t think that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. It is not either/or. It has to be both. I agree with Ken Kay who says that our children need both “world class skills and world class knowledge” (Toppo, 2009). We need to teach 21st century skills so that our students are prepared for the next step, whether it is college or the world of work, where the ability to use digital tools, to work collaboratively, to discover new knowledge quickly, to solve problems creatively will be essential to success. In addition, we need to teach core knowledge so that students have a base of intrinsic knowledge (knowledge within their own heads) on which to build as they go forth into the world. From this core knowledge, they can learn to judge the value of extrinsic information they encounter once out of school, whether on the web or elsewhere. I do not agree with E.D. Hirsch who sees the teaching of 21st Century skills as “an ineffectual waste of school time” (Toppo, 2009). In my opinion, Hirsch defines core knowledge too narrowly and prescriptively, but I do believe that teachers and administrators need to define a core knowledge to be taught in school. What is considered “core” will change over time. I agree with Hirsch that it is not enough simply to teach the skill to discover information and hope for the best. The web is a wonderful tool to acquire information but it is only valuable when used properly. It can be a major distraction for students and many use the web simply to confirm their own biases, as Alan November observes (2009). Alan gives us ways to teach the proper use of digital skills in the classroom. He gives us ways to encourage students to use Internet research for discovering truths and for collaborating with others towards a common goal. For example, he suggested assigning a new classroom researcher each day; this student would collect urls appropriate to the topic for the day and at the end of the class share what he found. He also suggested that the class cooperate on creating a podcast of what they learned for the week. Another example was for the students to create a book trailer for a book they read (an idea actually originating with a student). All of these would be useful applications of technology to the goals of learning.

Although we are interlinked globally through the web, each of us comes from a certain place and culture that influences how we view the world and how we solve problems. It is important for students to have a sense of themselves by understanding their own culture, and this is acquired through experiencing core knowledge as defined by those who have lived longer and acquired wisdom, the more experienced teachers, professors and other experts of that culture. This core knowledge is not static but is acquired over time and is constantly being redefined over centuries of study, where the useful is sifted out of the less useful, and then passed on through the generations. Each generation has something new to contribute and will repackage what the earlier generations have given it. And it would be a mistake for the digital natives to undervalue all past knowledge because of the technological discoveries of the current age, as it would be a mistake for the digital immigrants (the older generation) to dismiss all the activities of the digital natives (the younger generation), because these activities make them feel uncomfortable.

The digital revolution is as important to our world as the advent of the printing press was to the 15th century. Digital technologies are revolutionizing the way we communicate, collaborate, share information, and accomplish tasks in the real world. This technology is both a means to an end and an end unto itself. Virtual realities are, in some instances, becoming physical reality as shown in the Frontline program entitled Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier. This program is an excellent overview of some of the problems with and successes of digital technologies. It shows how children in Korea are becoming addicted to video gaming. It also shows some of the creative ways in which businesses and the army are creating virtual realities to accomplish their goals. IBM uses virtual conferencing to hold business meetings with employees around the world; the employees no longer travel to the office and know each other only through the virtual interface. The army uses virtual simulation to bomb Iraq; the pilots no longer fly airplanes but control bomb-dropping drones from their computers in California.

From the examples shown in this video, it is very clear that we are in the digital age and that our children must be immersed in digital technologies in the classroom and taught how to use these technologies appropriately in order to function in the real world. Our students will have better technological skills than we as teachers do, but we should have the wisdom to guide them in the judicious academic application of the technology. I was impressed with the Korean teachers in this film who were teaching their children Internet etiquette at a very young age.

What Does This Mean For Teaching In General?

It means that all teachers need to forget the old ways of teaching (such as teacher-centered lectures), wake up to the realities of the digital age, and, whenever possible, creatively integrate new digital technologies into the curriculum to achieve academic goals and to get students more motivated and engaged in learning. I believe that the content does not change as much as the approach to the content. In other words, I think that teachers should emphasize the same principles as before, and, in English, teach the same literature and principles of writing as before, but they should change their approach. The teacher should no longer lecture at length; instead, she should create activities, virtual worlds, and computer games to inspire and guide student learning. The teachers should be defining the academic goals while simultaneously enabling students to explore different technologies to achieve those goals.

Historically, education as a discipline tends to lag behind changes in the society as a whole. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which, is the lack of funding. But even in school districts that have up-to-date technology, many teachers are not using it in the classroom. One of my mentor teachers, a 30-year veteran English teacher, works in a district that supports the use of technology. She has kept up-to-date on everything the school acquires and tries to incorporate it into her lessons, but she says that most of the teachers across the disciplines do not. Some of this may be overcoming inertia and even a little fear of the new technologies. But another reason may be the time it takes to develop new lessons and to get and keep the technology working seamlessly. It is very frustrating to have the Internet go down in the middle of a YouTube video, or to have links that were perfectly fine the day before all of a sudden display 404 errors.

What Does This Mean For The Teaching Of English?

It means that English teachers, in spite of the difficulties, need to integrate digital technologies into the classroom. We owe it to our students. The types of activities that can and should be done in the English classroom lend themselves to the use of digital technology, since a lot of the technology improves the way we communicate as well as the way we discover and share information, which is what we are tasked to teach. Very generally, the key skills that need to be taught in High School English are researching, writing, and critical analysis. Many schools have desktop computers and are using word processing effectively to teach the writing process. Solomon and Schrum (2010) and Coffman (2013), however, give us some additional interesting ways to integrate web 2.0 and digital technologies into the teaching of researching, writing and critical analysis. I particularly like Coffman’s suggestion to create a wiki for sharing of information researched in class with the world (working collaboratively). I can envision my classes creating a wiki of key terms for the analysis of literature (such terms as ballad, lyric, rhyme, rhythm, figures of speech, metaphor, metonymy, narrative, plot, dynamic vs. flat character, rising action, falling action, open ending, etc.). Coffman also suggests having students explore databases for primary source material, which is a good way to get them involved in original research. There are web sites in which authors are interviewed and others where authors are reading their original works. I can envision students accessing such sites to do a biography on a particular author, or to provide some insight into a particular work of literature. In her chapter on creativity, Coffman suggests using Google Earth in a geometry class; I can imagine using Google Earth and other map features to plot the activities of characters in a book; setting can be important to revealing character and understanding plot. When students can actually see where the adventures are taking place, they can achieve greater understanding of what is going on in the book.

As Solomon and Schrum (2010) observe, the educational possibilities for blogging are multifold. The comments feature helps students realize that they have a public audience, a larger audience than just the teacher and this encourages them to think and write more carefully. It also enables them to help each other. The multimedia feature encourages creativity by allowing them to include images, sound, videos, and links to other sites in their blogs. I like Coffman’s suggestion for students to keep a reflection blog for the sharing of ideas with each other and parents. I can also imagine having the students blog about the literary texts assigned for their reading. Some blogs could be book reviews that either recommend or pan a book (the art of persuasion). Other blogs could focus on different writing strategies, such as summarization, comparison and contrast, thematical analysis. Just having the ability to share with others creates interest and stimulates useful discussion.


Coffman, T. (2013). Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students. 2nd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

November, A. (2009). Myths and Opportunities of Technology in the Classroom. New Learning Institute. A Nokia Pearson Foundation Alliance on Vimeo. Retrieved from

Solomon, G. & Schrum, L. (2010) web 2.0: how-to for educators. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Toppo, G. (2009, Mar 4). What to learn:’core knowledge’ or ’21st-century skills’? USA Today. Retrieved from

Technology Integration Matrix

August 29th, 2013

Compelling vs. Skeptical Use of Technology

The Language Arts Multi-Media Study Guide from the Technology Integration Matrix impressed me as a compelling approach to integrating technology into the study of High School English. In this example of Constructive-Infusion, the teacher encouraged her students to use a variety of technologies to create a multi-media study guide for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She allowed her students to use whatever combination of hardware and software they felt most comfortable using to contribute to the final product, which was produced in The students used laptops, tablets, and cell phones; they put their contributions into different formats (pdf, voice memo, voice-to-text). Her goal was to allow multiple options to accommodate different learning styles. This approach had several benefits: first, the students were very interested in contributing to the project because it involved showing off their knowledge of current technology; second, they could choose the technology that they felt most comfortable learning with; and, at the end, they retained the information better because their interest had been piqued. Even though analyzing such a complex play was usually a turn-off (particularly for the boys) and would have had “many heads down on the desk”, the integration of this relatively new technology into the project sparked interest. I was impressed at how quiet and interested the students seemed to be in the video and how one of the male students said he felt more comfortable using voice-to-text software (rather than writing or typing). It also enabled him to do some of the assignment on the way home from school. Getting adolescent males interested in literature is difficult; integrating technology in this way may be one approach. This English teacher showed me something that I would like to do in my classrooms: integrate current technology (cell phones, laptops, and tablets) seamlessly into the teaching of literature. The students responded naturally to this use of technology and fit naturally with the task of producing a study guide for Hamlet. It enabled the teacher and the students to accomplish their goals. This approach is a successful example of technology integration as defined by edutopia’s guide to technology integration (2007). It also reminded me of Bob Lenz’s World Lit Class, in which his students were using websites, video games, YouTube videos to study and understand Dante’s Inferno (2012), another very successful blending of technology and academic study.

I raised a skeptical eye when viewing the Language Arts Communicating with Mentors example. In this example of Collaborative Infusion, the high school students used email to contact mentors within and outside of the school for information and advice on their projects. What caused me to question this approach was the confusion and noise in the classroom and the lack of enthusiasm of the students. The students did not seem to be paying attention to the teacher; many looked bored; some seemed confused about who to contact; in one case, the teacher told the students to use names of advisers from the previous year. It was unclear what information the students were getting from the mentors and whether it was contributing usefully to their research. This approach did not seem like a well-integrated use of technology and was not that interesting to the students. It was unclear, in this particular approach, whether the email contact was going to actually help the students. For a mentoring project to be successful, the instructor needed to do more upfront work to ensure that the mentors contacted have the time and are committed to providing useful feedback to the students. Sending emails, in this particular case, was no more imaginative than having the students send blanket snail mail or make cold phone calls. If I were to have my students contact mentors, I would probably put a limit on the project topics so that I could check out potential mentors who were willing to set aside certain time to interact directly with the students through email, messaging, Skype, Google docs and other technologies with more guaranteed immediate response to the students.

Example of First Hand Technology Use

In my first practicum, my mentor teacher used a smart board to teach vocabulary and grammar to her 7th Grade students. She projected work sheets onto the screen. They were usually fill-in-the blank sentences or questions with multiple-choice answers. She called on students to go to the front of the class to write in answers with an electronic pen or change mistakes with an electronic eraser. I would classify this usage as Active-Adoption. In this case the teacher was directing students in the conventional and procedural use of technology tools and the students were following her direction. This was a fairly simple use of technology. This smart board was being used as a digital blackboard. The same type of activity could have been done with a blackboard and chalk, or white boards and markers, or simply by having students read answers from worksheets. However, the students seemed to enjoy using the electronic pens and erasers and walking up to the front of the class to record their answers.


edutopia Staff. (2007, November 5). What is Successful Technology Integration? Retrieved from

Bob Lenz. (2012 ,  February 8 ).  From the Classroom: What Does Blended Learning Look Like? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from