Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

New job, new location, new life

I have decided to keep working and posting on this blog, despite the almost 12 month abandonment of it during 2011. A new position as a Literacy Consultant sees me in a non-school based position which, while it no longer gives me a class of students to experiment with, does give me access to many schools and their challenges and adventures, a rich vein of information and ideas to be mined and shared.

Things have changed a lot since I started this blog in 2009. Some tools are still great, some have fallen by the wayside. Here’s a summary, that kind of includes my New Year’s Educational Technology Resolutions!

1. The delicious account that I started to keep track of all the new websites for educational use just became a pain and I stopped using it, so I tried creating a wiki as a place to store the information. This also was not as effective as I would have liked, as my ideas about my staff contributing to it came to nothing as no-one ever did but me. I am going to take a stab at Diigo, as Darcy Moore used it to replace his delicious account and I will spend some time this term trying to relocate everything from delicious and the wiki to diigo. Will let you know how that goes!

2. Yammer. I loved it and used it all the time – alas, no more. The Department, in its infinite wisdom, created something else for us to use instead and I have not logged onto it once yet. Therefore sometime this term I will make time to check out the Department’s version and see if it works for me.

3. Ning. I created a Ning, loved the concept of it and then they wanted to charge me money to host it. Bye to my Ning page.

4. Twitter. Loved it, love it, and have been hopeless at using it for 12 months. Will attempt to dive back in the twitter stream in 2012 also.

5. Google reader is an essential part of my life, particularly now that I have apps on both my iPhone and iPad to enable me to read posts anywhere, anytime.

6. EDMODO!! I love this site more and more each passing year.  I highly recommend it. There is a great professional development group on there as well now called Oz Edmodo that share fantastic resources and provide great feedback.

7. Just bought an iPad. It is revolutionising my world, and I’m wondering why I held off for so long. I’m going to explore new apps and applications for education. Can’t wait!

8. Facebook – now a part of my daily life, but rarely used for work, I have kept that one for my personal life 🙂

And the biggest resolution for the year: blog more often. It is a great way to reflect, clarify thoughts and ask myself hard questions.

Lots more to say, but I shall save it for a series of regular blog posts. Coming right up!

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January 23, 2012 Posted by | blogging, edmodo, twitter | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out of the flow

In a small departure from my usual type of post, I am going to add a personal reflection on a recent difficult period in my life. I began 2009 fired up and with much gusto. New school, new city, new opportunities. I grabbed everything with both hands, had many ideas and did all that came my way. By the end of the year I was stressed beyond belief. Burnt out? Quite possibly. I stopped engaging with the world outside of my job as I hunkered down in an effort to survive. I stopped tweeting, stopped blogging, stopped emailing and even stopped calling my friends. I didn’t really know how to describe what was going on for me and every minute on the phone was another minute that I got further behind in my work so it was just easier to isolate myself. In the January 2010 school holidays I made a concerted effort to recover, spending three weeks resting and building up my resilience again, a week reconnecting with all my friends and a week preparing for the new school year. I was excited, energised and enthusiastic about teaching and learning in 2010.

The first week of school was awesome. I felt like my old self again and was really looking forward to the term. That weekend I fell down, put my arms out to break my fall, and broke my elbow. My left arm went into a cast from the knuckles of my fingers to just under my armpit and my right hand and wrist were bandaged up to immobilise them completely. The right hand and wrist were immobilsed for three weeks and it took five or so weeks after that for all the pain to leave that hand, the left arm was in the cast for the rest of the term (10 weeks). The cast came off in the holidays and here and now, five weeks after the cast came off, I can finally type with two hands again. I have physio twice a week, can almost straighten my elbow and can now turn my hand over palm up with only a little pain.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I would like to talk about the impact of it. I did not realise how much I relied on being a two-handed individual to do my life. Never mind all the practical aspects, which were tediously difficult, there were others just as frustrating. Only being able to type with one hand was crippling in every sense of the word. I could only really use a mouse with any degree of proficiency and had to even ask someone to open the lid of my laptop for me as I was not able to open it one-handed. My iPhone came into its own during this time. I typed with one hand but found it so time-consuming that I once again stopped really communicating via text with anyone. Lots of phone calls now but very little interaction with technology. Twitter became frustrating as I would see great things that I wanted to talk about and add to Delicious or email to my staff or blog about and yet it caused me too much physical pain to do so.  As a result, I once again took myself out of the flow.

Now that I am back on deck with two hands that almost work the way they used to, I am discovering that not only does the pace of technology move with unrelenting speed but so too does the Twitter stream.  I am out of touch, on the edge of the flow instead of within it, and I find that my PLN are now talking to other people who don’t even know who I am, nor that I used to be in the flow.

I am uncharacteristically hesitant to jump in, self-conscious about tweeting and feeling that perhaps I no longer have anything relevant to blog about. From this, however, I have GOOD NEWS.

It has reminded me of how it feels to be a newbie ( a noob!), how all those teachers that I am encouraging to join Twitter and to blog, etc must feel as they venture forth into the unknown. It has reminded me of why I started my blog in the first place. It was so that all those teachers new to technology integration had a place to go to find out the basic, starting information.

My experience has led me to a greater sense of purpose in my blogging, a greater understanding of those who deal with physical handicap, hardship and inconveniences on a daily basis, and a better balance in my work and home life. I have learned to take the time to nurture my health, both mental and physical. I have learned that it is ok to say “no”, to sometimes miss out on things and to be out of the flow occasionally.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , , | 1 Comment

What is Twitter?

One thing that I have noticed about other people’s blogs, is that sometimes people can assume that you know about the technologies they are talking about. One thing that I want to do on my blog is make it a resource for those who are just starting out when it comes to integrating technology into their classroom teaching, working world and home life. As such, I will try to create ‘instruction’ posts fairly often, to give readers information at a basic level for those who need it!

I have created instructional posts for Delicious and wikis, so now it is time for one on Twitter, particularly owing to the number of posts on my blog that are talking about Twitter. So here is a fantastic little video from Common Craft that explains Twitter in plain English.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

Twitter Instructions

For all of you out there who have now decided that you want to check out Twitter, I have found two great resources for you. The first one is a handbook on how to use Twitter that was put together by a group of teachers in WA:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/14062777/Twitter-Handbook-for-Teachers

And the second is a great post on how to Retweet:

http://mashable.com/2009/04/16/retweet-guide/

Two great resources for the brave who decide to come twittering with me! Once you have a twitter account just click on Find People and type in: melissagiddins and then click on ‘follow’ and I will follow you right back.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

TED talks Twitter

This is a great video that I found on Kelli McGraw’s Blog, with the co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, explaining  a little of what Twitter is all about.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | Leave a comment

Twitter in the Classroom

In the last two weeks of Term 1, I decided to experiment with twittering with students. The dangers inherent in this made it all a bit daunting, but considering how very public twitter is, I decided that it would make me very accountable and in some ways perhaps be ‘safer’ as I had many witnesses to every communication.

The idea behind the experiment was that it would help students to learn to be succinct – capturing an idea or thought in 140 characters or less.  With the move towards reducing the amount of words students write in HSC exams, students need to learn how to dispense with waffle and to encapsulate an idea in a succinct manner. Students also struggle to put together a thesis statement under exam conditions – given only a few minutes with an unseen question, it is very tempting to skip the planning process altogether and just start writing their essay.  Students sometimes struggle with creating a thesis under these conditions with only a few minutes to plan, and every minute that they take in the planning process, takes away time for them to write their essay. The art of being succinct is becoming ever more important for our senior students. Most of them have Facebook accounts and complete status updates on their facebook pages so I was thinking about twitter as a way to combine their current social networking with learning a new and useful ability for school. What better way than learning to express themselves in 140 characters or less on twitter?

The biggest issue: the DET portal does not allow Twitter (it is a blocked site) and therefore all of this had to be done at home for both the students and myself. This meant having school infringe on my homelife in a big way, and raised questions of equity in that not all students may have access to the necessary computing and internet requirements at home.

Now for the current results of this little experiment.

Bottom line: It didn’t work the way I thought it would.

I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I can’t ‘group’ my posts so they only go to my students. Thus, every post I tried to send to them went out to all my followers on twitter. This made me ridiculously self-conscious about what I said to the students, and paranoid about irritating such fabulous twitterers as Darcy and Lyndon who deigned to follow my tweets.

Thankfully, Darcy was patient, understanding, and as always, provided me with a possible solution: edmodo (www.edmodo.com). Next project for the holidays now is setting up an edmodo account ready to start with my students next term, where the experiment will continue, just on a different platform.

As for the actual twittering…

I suggested that my Year 11 Extension English class, currently studying ‘Dracula’ and its appropriations in popular culture, use twitter to consolidate their ideas about the text prior to their exams in Week 11 of Term 1. Of the 10 students in that class, 9 students joined twitter and began to ‘follow’ me and use twitter.  They struggled to know what to say without having any kind of stimulus, so I tweeted questions at them – which of course then went out to everyone that follows me, not just them.  I tried prefacing my tweets with ‘Year 11,’ so that it was like addressing a letter just to them, in the hope that the others following me would understand that this was a tweet that was not for all. The students began responding to the stimulus questions but it was a bit shallow and not having the effect that I was looking for. Then, students began using it as a forum to ask questions about the upcoming exams. I had to be extremely careful then about making sure that they did not have information that the rest of the class did not have  – equity, fairness, validity – all these had to be taken into consideration. The students started telling their friends about twitter and soon there were a number of Year 11 students on twitter that were not in my class – and then some of them started asking me questions about the exams as well. So now I am talking to students that I do not have a relationship established with in the classroom, and that barely know me due to me starting at the school in Term 1. The dangers here now were palpable. It would be far too easy for my words to be misconstrued and they also started asking questions about the exams.

The first thing I want to say is that I survived, and continue to survive, the experience. My worst fears were not realised and these incredibly intelligent, well-behaved and considerate students used twitter appropriately and with understanding when I couldn’t give more information. The very public nature of twitter helped, as they could read what I had said to others and that assisted everyone to have more information and to understand the limits of what I could say.  The Year 11 Extension English students made a real effort to engage with the process, and I am now going to use edmodo with this class to continue this experiment further, as they are obviously keen to use technology, social networking applications and willing to interact at home as well as at school. I need however, to make sure that the 10th student will also engage with edmodo – it will be all or nothing at all. Also, must check that edmodo works through the DET portal so we can work on it at school and eliminate some of the equity issues.

Being a particularly insane person, I also gave the offer to my Year 12 Advanced English class to twitter about ‘Citizen Kane’, prior to their assessment task in Week 11. With the task being an unseen in-class task, it was similar to the experience that Year 11 were undergoing in preparing for their exams, so my reasoning was that they may need to also learn the art of being succinct in exam conditions. This was less successful in terms of take-up. Of the 19 students in my class, only 10 took up the offer to follow me on twitter. They did not tweet about Citizen Kane at all, just used the opportunity to ask questions about the assessment task, which of course brought up all those questions about equity and validity again.

Out of the 22 students at school that are now following me on Twitter, only Year 11 really used it for what I had originally intended. Now it simply seems to provide access to me so that they can ask questions about texts and tasks. What do the students think? Some think it’s lame, some think it’s fun, and some have signed up and never really used it. But it’s early days yet, so we will see where it goes from here.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | 3 Comments

Twitter

I started using Twitter in 2008 though very sporadically, and took it up again in early 2009 to really see what it would be like to have twitter in my life on a regular basis. I downloaded twhirl (www.twhirl.org) which is an application that brings my twitter updates to me on my desktop and means I don’t have to keep checking my actual twitter webpage. Very useful tool that actually made twittering considerably easier.

I find twitter for me has opened me up to new sources of information. By following Darcy Moore (darcy1968) and Lyndon Sharp (lyndons) I am constantly receiving new ideas and information regarding social networking and technology in education. Through them I have been exposed to a new world, others to ‘follow’ and many information websites and thoughts. I feel like I am just grasping Web 2.0 or Education 2.0 and they are already talking about Education 3.0. It is online professional development and mental world expansion in 140 characters or less!

Don’t get me wrong, not every tweet is mind-boggling useful, just that they add up over days and weeks to introduce new and wonderful ideas and information. I have today joined two ‘twibes’ (‘books’ and ‘englishteachers’) which will be another useful experiment to see what riches can be yielded.

The bottom line is that so far the twitter at home experiment is working for me. I encourage others to join twitter (www.twitter.com) and begin to learn the fine art of conversing in 140 characters or less. For those of you in education, I recommend you follow Darcy and Lyndon (their twitter names are already stated above) and Maralyn Parker (Marpar) who writes the education column for the Daily Telegraph for all the latest in the news regarding education. Then, tell your fellow teachers, friends, etc and start to ‘follow’ each other. You can make the experience as mundane or as rich as you wish – it’s your two cents’ worth after all.

You are more than welcome to follow me on twitter, you can find me as: melissagiddins, but I warn you now that I am not one of the mind-boggling and profound twitterers!

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | Leave a comment