Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

Learning from Failure

I had a reminder again today about how important it is to be flexible as a teacher. I would like to add to that and mention how important it is to be flexible when planning to use technology in your lessons. Let me tell you a tale.

As you can see from my previous post, I had an idea and sought advice as to how to implement my idea. It was simple.

The Idea:

My class would collaborate, discussing themes from a text they had just studied (Twelfth Night), looking at key ideas and which of these could be seen as Universal Themes, relevant to a modern audience, brainstorming to create an entire list to work with.  They would then look at the idea of appropriation, defining the term, and exploring how they could utilise the universal themes to create an appropriation of Twelfth Night.

The Plan:

The brainstorming process would take place digitally, to save time. Usually I would have everyone grab eight or so different textas and write all over the whiteboard with the students then copying down the results in their books afterwards. Considering this is a Year 10 class and they all have DER laptops I decided to find a way to brainstorm and record results digitally, saving time and utilising their laptops.

First idea was to use Google Docs – blocked. Wallwisher – blocked, but you can have it unblocked for a specific closed version but I did not have time to set that up. I looked at a few other programs and then found one called PrimaryPad through a blog called Free Technology for Teachers. Primary Pad did exactly what I wanted and it wasn’t blocked. I set one up, tested it, everything worked, so I put the link for our PrimaryPad discussion onto our Moodle page ready for the students. Then, knowing how things sometimes don’t go as planned, I created a wiki on our Moodle as a backup in case the Primary Pad thingy didn’t work, and placed that on their moodle page too.

Next step in the plan was to have students create a presentation with Prezi.Com to synthesise their ideas. I created a quick prezi myself as a demonstration and then placed the link for the demonstration and Prezi.com on their moodle page.

The Reality:

One student didn’t have her laptop as it was in for repair and there were none left in the pool to replace it, one student’s laptop just would NOT connect to the internet, one student’s trackpad/mouse wouldn’t work. Well, only 3 not working right out of 28 ain’t bad.

Primary Pad kept disconnecting from their server with a “server synchronisation” error. After five minutes or so of countless attempts by all in the class, I figured this was a compatibility issue with the DET server and all its numerous layers of permissions. So we went to Plan B. We opened the moodle wiki, only to discover that only one person could have the edit page function open at a time. Kind of defeats the purpose of a wiki in my mind and definitely did not meet our needs, but nothing I could do about it at the time. Plan C – we got textas and brainstormed on the whiteboard and then the students copied the information into their OneNote notebooks. They have a section for Appropriation in their OneNote notebooks for English so I told them to just use that – please take note that thinking on one’s feet does not always allow one to be creative (they had mindmapping software on their laptop for goodness’ sake and I didn’t get them to use it!).

Part two went well! My prezi loaded and played for them. I played the YouTube demonstration/instruction videos to the class, they went to the Prezi.com site, signed up and started creating! I did have to go around to at least half the class and close tool bars and autohide tool bars in order for students to be able to see the X at the top right hand of the movie that kept trying to play over top of their first prezi. Once we had taken care of that though, we were all systems go.

Lessons learned:

  1. Just because the DET internet filter says that something is “allow” doesn’t mean it will work. Check it first. At school.
  2. Your definition of a wiki and someone else’s definition of a wiki may not be the same thing. Also known as “one wiki is not always the same as another”. Now I couldn’t really check this one by myself because it needed more than one person logged in to check it, but I could have checked it utilising another member of staff, had I done this preparation at school and not at home. So, check it first and start preparation earlier.
  3. Have a backup plan for your backup plan.

In future:

  • I am going to try to create a shared OneNote page for a “brainstorm and record” activity. As you can’t set one up from a DER laptop, this means setting one up from the staffroom ahead of time, ready for the class to use.
  • I would also like to have a go with Wallwisher so will try setting one of those up in advance and having it unblocked.
  • The students have Freemind on their laptops so I could get them to create a mindmap rather than just typing results of verbal brainstorm into OneNote.

On the bright side, the students REALLY enjoyed using Prezi.com and overwhelmingly said it was more interesting than using PowerPoint, was fun to use, made them think about more elements of visual literacy than using PowerPoint and they learned how to use it quickly and with little fuss or teacher instruction required.

Moral to the story? Learn from everything, failure included, and above all – be flexible!

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May 17, 2010 Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Moodle | , , , | 7 Comments

Moodle’s Virtual Staffroom

The next Moodle challenge for me was how to utilise the Virtual Staffroom on Moodle. I asked myself some questions to try to work out what its purpose should be and therefore what I needed to put in it. My questions were simple:

  • What would my staff go to a virtual staffroom for?
  • How could a virtual staffroom make their lives easier?
  • How could a virtual staffroom support them in their
    • teaching and learning?
    • utilisation of moodle?
    • professional development?

Simple questions, but I am not sure that I have a complete handle on them yet. Why? Because I made a stupid mistake: I thought about this – I didn’t ask my staff! I wanted to provide them with a resource as quickly as possible and having limited time, simply created it when I had the time and inspiration struck. I have, of course, since asked for feedback, but in retrospect I wish I had allowed time for a brainstorming faculty meeting where we all talked about the answers to those simple questions.

So what went on the virtual staffroom? First some background. The DERNSW laptops connect beautifully to the internet service provided by the DET, what they don’t connect to yet is our school network where all our information is stored.

Thus, my first step in setting up the virtual staffroom was the provision of our resources that we need access to on a regular basis, on the web-based Moodle so that all staff could access our resources. So I started by adding the following: programs, Assessment Schedules, Proformas for assessment tasks and reports, whole school organisation information including rosters, exam schedules and reporting deadlines, etc. While I was at it I provided links to all of the Board of Studies pages for the syllabus information for the four KLAs in my faculty.

Next step was to think about it as a communication tool. I created a “daily noticeboard” topic and within that there are announcements, deadlines, assessment task notification reminders, events and information regarding the latest updates to the virtual staffroom. I also created a topic to keep the faculty memos and minutes within. Scrolling through my files I realised that I had copies of all the professional development information that I had used in 2009 and that which I had used so far this year in faculty meetings. So I created a topic called Professional Development and I added copies of all the professional development information I had used with, or provided to, the faculty from the beginning of 2009.

Then I felt free to start exploring the virtual staffroom as a place to provide resources, ideas and inspiration. I created a Technology Tips topic and am adding a website of the week each week to expose staff to new ideas and new Web 2.0 resources.  This came from a conversation I had at a project workshop recently. A group of us were talking about edmodo and glogster amongst other resources and one of the teachers just looked at me and asked how I knew about all those resources and wondered out loud if she had been living under a rock recently! I realised that my faculty may feel exactly the same way, so I decided on the Website of the Week to gradually introduce new sites and ideas in such a way as to not be overwhelming.

Next I added Literacy Resources, Laptop Resources, Teaching Resources and Moodle instructions and information. Within those sections are interactive websites, videos, instructions, lesson plans, articles, blog posts, powerpoints, word docs and pdf files.  I would love to give the link here for people to have a look at it, but of course it is passworded and private!

The feedback from my staff so far has been minimal with one negative comment: “one more place we have to look at and check” and one positive “even a techno-idiot like me can use it!” and mostly silence about it. I have asked how they feel but get mostly smiles and nods complete with “great” and “fine”, which makes me feel like I need a more structured form of feedback so that I can get some real information back. One surprise came from a staff member who is reluctant to use technology, explaining how useful the virtual staffroom is and that she is now checking it on an almost daily basis. The real surprise though came from her extolling its virtues to teachers and Head Teachers at another school, who now wish to come and visit me and look at the virtual staffroom to see how they can set up a similar one at their own schools. Maybe what I am doing is working after all…

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Moodle | | Leave a comment

Moodle and Me

Towards the end of last year our school completed the installation of Moodle.  This year is the integration of Moodle into our teaching and learning.  To begin with, we are encouraged to start using it as a content management tool. The initial steps outlined for all teachers are to change the school template for your courses by uploading an appropriate image, upload your assessment tasks and add the tasks to the Moodle calendar.

In many ways, this was a clever move, as it was such a small thing to ask of people and easy to do, so that there was really no excuse to not be Moodling.  Having said that, some of my staff were still quite challenged and required extra instructions and two special faculty meetings devoted to Moodle in order to have the courses for Year 7 and Year 10 English completed by Term 1.

When those who were willing and enthusiastic then wanted to go further, they were inclined to see Moodle more as a content management tool than anything else. Therefore, their next, unguided, steps were to add a welcome message, add information to the topics in the way of topic descriptions and to upload photos and handouts for students. Those brave few that have continued further have added video and content for learning – seeming to understand e-learning as being about providing content and information digitally and furthering their use of Moodle as a content management tool.  This seems to me to be the tip of the Moodle iceberg.

Conscious of my role as leader of the faculty, I too first followed this path, and added much content to my own Moodle courses. Being an avid promoter of Web 2.0 interactive technologies for teaching and learning, this soon felt restrictive and two-dimensional.  I then started to explore how I could use Moodle to provide Web 2.0 experiences for my students.  I am by no means there yet, but have certainly begun the process.  The next step is to get my staff walking along the same path.

My challenge is to now shift the mentality of my faculty, from Moodle as a content management tool to Moodle as an interactive teaching and learning tool. First step I guess is the same as always – do it first as a model to show them the way. Inspire, invigorate, demonstrate, teach, provide, revise, repeat.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Moodle | , | 4 Comments