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 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 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 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!


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

Enthusing about Edmodo

I mentioned on my blog last year that I was going to try out Edmodo ( Now let me gush enthusiastically at how wonderful Edmodo is! This is now the second year of classes and this year has been infinitely more successful because I set everything up right from the first week of classes.

Before school began, I set up the groups, archived last year’s groups and put a welcome message in for everyone. Then in the first week of school, first day of class with each new class, I gave them the group code and encouraged the sign up. I took them to computer labs and made them sign up while I watched and generally ensured that the majority of students were now connected with Edmodo.

Then I started posting homework on Edmodo, EVERY DAY. Even if there was no homework, I posted a message saying there was none. When students came in and told me they had forgotten they had homework I reminded them that they should be checking Edmodo each night.

This has been a very successful strategy. The number of students not completing work or being prepared for class work has perceptibly decreased. A parent commented to me that her daughter checks Edmodo for her homework every night and that they both like the ability to see what needs to be done. I have also had very positive feedback from the students regarding their ability to be able to ask me a question when they think of the question. I may not answer it immediately, if I am not online, but they can at least ask it at the time rather than trying to remember it the next day in class. Edmodo really comes into its own prior to assessment tasks. All my students know that they can leave a question, submit a draft for comment and seek reassurance at any time in the lead up to the assessment task. The students also use Edmodo to talk to each other – if I have not responded to a question and another student knows the answer, they will help each other out by answering questions, giving suggestions and encouraging and supporting each other. I had an amusing incident last term when prior to a science test one of my classes spent several hours on my English Edmodo group asking each other questions and helping each other to prepare for the science test. They then apologised to me for using the English group to do this but explained that there wasn’t one for science, so they were using what they had. This truly showed me how much the students value Edmodo as a communication tool when they were using it on their own, with no teacher input or direction.

Students are now also uploading tasks on Edmodo -the Wide Reading Log for Year 10 had a large number of students upload the task on Edmodo rather than printing it out and handing it to me in class. While we are not yet utilising all the aspects of Edmodo, as a communication tool it is winning hands down on anything else we have available, including Moodle. I think that we will utilise Moodle for most of the other tasks that Edmodo can do, but we will continue to use Edmodo for our class communication as it is the easiest platform for students to understand and access at any time.

If you are thinking about taking up Edmodo for the first time, I suggest that you read the first post on Edmodo that I wrote that contains instructions for how to get started:

I would also give the following recommendations for effective Edmodo use:

  1. Do something that ensures that all students have signed up – such as standing over them in a computer room until it is done!
  2. Post something on it EVERY DAY when you first start out, so that students get in the habit of checking it.
  3. Talk about it in class – “I have posted the topics on Edmodo”, “your homework will be posted on Edmodo by 4pm”, etc.
  4. Ensure that you do actually respond to students in a reasonably timely manner, particularly when you first start using it with a class, otherwise they will consider Edmodo as “not working” and a waste of time, and will stop using it.
  5. Prior to an assignment, set boundaries for your time e.g. “I will be checking Edmodo every few hours across the weekend” so they don’t expect instant responses, and “I will be signing off at 10pm on Sunday night – no further answers after that” so they don’t expect to continue talking to you until the wee hours while they catch up on the work they procrastinated about doing earlier.

Edmodo has been a roaring success with five of my classes so far, and I am sure will continue to be so through the next few years.  Other members of my faculty are now also using Edmodo on a regular basis and are also enjoying the benefits of better communication with students. Edmodo has proven to be one of the most useful Web 2.0 tools I have encountered.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | edmodo | , | 4 Comments

Podcasting Part Two

I created some podcasts on essay writing in 2008 and have made them available to students at two different schools now but had not really done anything more since then. I wrote a post about those podcasts last year: Recently, I find myself teaching essay writing again and realised that when a student is absent from the lesson where you explain the basics, it really impacts on their learning. As such, I once again started creating podcasts.

I use Audacity to create podcasts as it is easy to use and has options to add other layers such as background music. You can download Audacity for free:

I recently created podcasts on:

  • Planning an Essay Step 1: Part 1: Analysing the Rubric
  • Planning an Essay Step 1: Part 2: Analysing the Question
  • Planning an Essay Step 2: Creating a Thesis

I intend to complete the “Planning an Essay” series with Step 3: Points of argument. Hopefully I will have time to do this soon as I am currently in the midst of the essay writing teaching. I am also looking at a podcast on how to argue conceptually and how to come up with the concepts to argue in the first place, also perhaps one explaining the principles of supporting evidence for your argument. So many ideas, so little time!

Two important recommendations if you are thinking of podcasting: 

  1. Write a script first and read off the script. It makes for a much better flow and a smoother listening experience for your audience.
  2. If the podcast is for students – keep it short. Three to six minutes is about right for their attention span, up to about 10 – 12 minutes as the absolute maximum.

The advent of Moodle as a VLE (virtual learning environment) at my school has created a space where the podcasts can be made available to students, making the whole process considerably easier than in the past. (Had tried leaving them on a shared drive on the school server, providing them to students on a USB drive – all fairly clunky processes that were not overly successful.)

I have an Essay Writing Help topic now on my Year 11 Moodle page and have been able to upload examples, models, interactive writing websites and my podcasts. The feedback from this class of students has indicated that the Essay Writing Help topic and my podcasts have made a big difference in their understanding of essay writing. Particularly, because they can hear the information from me in class, then go home and listen to it again when they are needing the information revised, usually right before writing an essay. Also, those students who miss a lesson due to illness, sporting commitments, excursions, etc are then able to catch up on the information through the podcasts.

Once again, I am reminded of the benefit of podcasts and will continue to utilise them throughout this year, seeking feedback from the students, and will no doubt have learned much more from the process by the end of the year. I may even be able to create a podcast about something else other than essay writing if I can ever finish that series!

May 15, 2010 Posted by | podcasting | , | Leave a comment

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