Blogging Best Practices…

This article was originally posted on the Technology & Learning Blog.

 76 180284466 6B255Fd2F6 MThere has been a background buzz going on in the edublogosphere, a conversation that seems, to me, to be a net that is surrounding and bringing more relevance to a lot of the conversations that are taking place right now. It actually started with a conversation at NECC that was webcasted by the conference. The participants were Will Richardson, Tom March, and Tim Wilson, and the topic was Web 2.0. During that conversation the issue came up about there not being a central location for finding instructional and professional applications of blogging in the classroom. Of course this is not entirely true. There are lots of locations, including Richardson’s book, which he was to professional to mention.

But it seems to me that it was years, even decades before there was such a thing in the general educational technology community. In fact, there are many. What’s truly different today, is that the nature of this new highly connected and highly participant controlled information landscape makes it possible for us, you and me, to establish our own clearinghouse of blogging best practices.

All we really have to do is agree on one tag, one word, that will label a blogged or wiki’ed description of a useful instructional or professional applications of blogging (or wikis, or social bookmarks, or social media). This emerging thread of conversation can be captured by our aggregators and made available to us as a clearinghouse of blogging best practices.

The open source guru, Steve Hargadon, has established a wiki page for our best practices on his Support Blogging wiki, a collaborative site where blogging educators are compiling evidence for the educational value of blogging and the other second web applications. Hardagon is using Wikispaces for the site, which supports RSS feeds. (Wikispaces is also available free to educators.)

Just go to the Support Blogging site, and click on Best Practices.

So there are only three steps necessary to continue this very focused conversation about blogging best practices.

  1. Establish a tag and use it on all blogs we write that describe an educational best practice. I will suggest bloggingbestpractice (singular). It’s a bit long, but very clear. Use it!
  2. Not everyone, who is talking about their educational uses of the new web in their blogs, will know to tag them, or even how. So as you encounter such articles, blog them and tag them. We only need a handful of diligent blog-savvy, blog readers to make this work.
  3. Visit and talk about the Support Blogging wiki. But the true beauty of the second web is that any of us can now set up our own clearinghouses, on our own online handouts or our own personal aggregators.

We don’t need the government to do this for us. We just need access to the conversation.

2¢ Worth…

Added Later:
Joyce suggested in a comment on the T&L version of this posting, that we could have multiple taggings. If one tagged a blog entry about a best practice with
bloggingbestpractice and also with math, then a seeker could search Technorati for bloggingbestpractice AND math.

Image Citation
Blackall, Leigh. “Alison Blogging.” Leighblackall’s Photostream. 2 July 2006. 14 Aug 2006 <>.

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A Good Day in Memphis

Lorrie JacksonI’m back at the Lausanne Collegiate School, in Memphis, the home of The Laptop Institute. Today, I’ll be working with the faculty of the school for a day-long professional development. At least the temperatures are not in the 100s today.

I’m very happy about the day of activities that we have devised. It will begin with my standard contemporary literacy presentation. The goal is to help these educators, whose students have ubiquitous access to laptops, to think more about contemporary basic literacy skills, when using the technology, than thinking about the technology.

That presentation will be followed by a breakout session where teachers will be working in groups to start populating a school wiki. This wiki will hopefully become a clearinghouse for strategies in integrating contemporary literacy into their classrooms.

That session will be followed by a presentation about the millennials, these youngsters in our classrooms today, who are, by almost all measures, unique in history. After that presentation, participants will work during lunch, to come up with three new words that they will use in this year’s welcoming messages for their students, words that describe today’s learners. They will then be helped by the technology staff of the school, to set up a blog and to begin writing a blog article of welcome to their students and to the parents of their students.

Finally, I will do a presentation about Web 2.0 tools, focusing on the history and philosophies of blogging, and specific tools, including wikis, RSS, aggregators, social bookmarks, and social media. This is going to have to be good, because it’s the end of the day, they’ll be tired, and my task will be to end the day with all participants on the edges of their seats. Wish me luck!

Classroom & Teacher Applications of Blogging

I was reviewing some of my web links, preparing for some presentations at a school in Memphis tomorrow, when I happened upon a web page maintained by the Department of Education & Training, Government of Western Australia. The page is called Weblogs in the Classroom and the introduction says…

Weblogs provide a communication space that teachers can utilise with students whenever there is a curriculum need to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken in the classroom.

The part that caught my attention was lit up by a conversation that is going on right now about blogging best practices. The section is called Classroom and Teacher Applications, and features uses of blogging in English instruction, Science, Health, Drama, Libraries, and general studies.

This site is definitely worth adding to your online bookmarks.

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What is RSS? (cont.)

My entry, yesterday, on RSS attracted a good deal of response from some people I respect a lot. I guess that it really isn’t all that important which metaphor you use, as long as it’s logical and as long as it connects. I posted a response to the conversation that emerged, and thought that I would post it here as well, as the discussion expanded into something larger.

But, it is good to be having these conversations, because as the new school year begins, we’ll be explaining this stuff again to educators, trying to get them to join this new information landscape.

Here are my comments:

Wow! It seems like almost all of my 17 readers are responding to this one (problem is that when I’m being serious, people think I’m joking, and when I’m joking, people think I’m being serious.) I agree with Cherrie, that RSS is a simple concept, especially when, as Shawn says, we don’t use words like aggregator.

I suspect that we won’t be able to delete that word though, any more than we’ll be able to change what a podcast is called. But, back to Cherrie, I suspect that she is right. It’s new. It’s technology, which doesn’t help, but dynamic (living) content is a little frightening to folks, especially educators who need firm foundations upon which to stand — gravity and all (see Flat Classrooms). Dynamic (digital networked) information really changes a lot of things, not to mention our very notions of literacy.

The approach I’ve been taking is trying to convince educators how important dynamic information is in a time of rapid change. When we are asking brand new questions and solving brand new problems, the answers will frequently come out of the conversations of dynamic information.

Anyway, back to the task at hand, I really like Dave Jakes approach of likening RSS to magazine subscriptions. I’ve seen him very eloquently present this at conferences and it plugs in especially well since the term is frequently used within the context of RSS.

NetvibesStill, subscribing refers to the process. I guess my mind, yesterday, lighted on that aggregator — what you’re looking at after you’ve subscribed. This is where the Table of Contents comes in. It is an old convention that everyone is familiar with. It is a primary means of finding information in a book, and it is, exactly, what your subscribed feeds are, when you see them through your aggregator.

The aggregator itself can really be a lot of things. It can be considered your digital library (within which you have dynamic books with tables of contents). Some people think of it as a browser, integrating it into their use of Safari or Firefox. I use Netvibes, which looks very much like a digital newspaper. But when I look at an individual subscription or feed, I see a table of contents of that source of information, giving me logical access to its conversation.

2¢ Worth!

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What is RSS?

I’m sitting in my office today, writing code, trying to create an update of Rubric Builder before I move Landmarks for Schools over to the new web server. It’s occurred to me that this is a Web 2.0 application, a very old one. Teachers come in and add their rubrics. Other teachers can find their rubrics and adapt them to their own uses. It’s collaborative content building.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing this. A nice thing about programming is that I can do it and listen to podcasts at the same time (unlike writing). So I’m listening to this podcast where someone is trying to define what RSS is, and not doing a very good job of it. It’s no wonder why people remain confused by what is essentially a very simple concept.

Then it occurred to me, and tell me if I’m getting this wrong, that more than anything else, RSS is a table of contents. Well, to be precise, its the aggregator that is the table of contents. The difference is that a traditional TOC describes the contents of a static document. An aggregator describes the contents of a document that is growing, i.e., my blog or my bookmarks. As I add this entry to my blog, my table of contents grows, and, thanks to RSS, it shows up on the computers of my readers around the world — all 17 of them.

Does this make any sense, or am I just looking for excuses to get away from my programming.

2¢ Worth!

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Some Forward Reaching Words from … Wait a Minute, a State Department of Education?

OK, I couldn’t resist. To be absolutely honest, I am not one bit surprised at this development, knowing the very fine and creative people from state departments of education across the country, and specifically, June Atkinson, our elected State Superintendent, whom I knew as the Director of Vocational Education Services, when I worked for the agency ages ago.

This comes to me from that Net Hauler and perpetually out side the box guy, Joe Poletti. He reports (Future Ready SBE Priorities) from our (North Carolina) state superintendent’s recent message to teachers where she says:

To begin to move North Carolina schools forward toward being future ready, the State Board of Education approved a new mission statement and goals this month. The guiding mission of the North Carolina State Board of Education is that every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st century.

Atkinson then lists the State Board of Education’s five goals:

NC public schools will produce globally competitive students.
NC public schools will be led by 21st century professionals.
NC public school students will be healthy and responsible.
Leadership will guide innovation in NC public schools.
NC public schools will be governed and supported by 21st century systems.

This is great news from the state that was first to implement high-stakes standardized testing. But we were also one of the first two states to invest heavily in 21st Century Skills, from The Partnership on 21st Century Skills.

I almost forgot, Poletti’s main reason for writing this entry (please read his original post) was to point out similarities between the State Board’s goals, and a media/technology services plan, called IMPACT, which has been promoted and supported by the departments Instructional Technology Division, led by Francis Bradburn.

Where are the Best Practices

 30 45365722 C4E1Dc782D MEarly this morning teacher Blogger, Brian Cosby, echoed an increasingly asked question, “Where are the best practices?” The sixth grade teacher points back to a number of references, most notably something written by Will Richardson about a conversation he’d had with Australian educator and expat Tom Marsh during a NECC webcast. You can see that conversation at NECC Live. Look for Web 2.0 in Education.

From his perspective, as a classroom teacher, Cosby suggest several reasons why we are not seeing more innovative applications of technology coming out of our classrooms. I urge you to read his Learning is Messy blog posting, Where are the “Best Practices” Examples!???! for the complete list. But if I could paraphrase, he says:

  1. Schools & districts block the publishing of exemplary student work.
  2. Sharing student work is time-consuming.
  3. Educators value the journey not the finished work.
  4. Sharing student work is technically difficult.
  5. Time structures make the production of significant student work difficult to impossible.
  6. Most teachers making innovative use of new technologies are starting from scratch with their students.
  7. Many technology-innovative educators are more interested in the technology than the curriculum.
  8. Some do not realize that what they are doing is “Best Practice” They don’t see the “WOW”.

If I misrepresented any of the above items, I apologize. Again, please read Cosby’s original post.

I’d combine it all down to say that we simply do not value the “WOW” any more. I’m taken back to the various times that I have had the opportunity to work with educators in other countries, notably the UK and Canada, and how I so often heard words like inspire, innovate, motivate, within the conversations I had, and how those words sounded almost foreign to me. It didn’t use to be that way. But we have become so focused on robust standards, measurable results, and definite and comfortable definitions of students, teachers, and classrooms, that we have lost sight of what it is that we are doing — holding the hands of our children and guiding them into a brilliantly exciting future where almost anything is possible.

We continue, stubbornly, to want to count the seeds in an apple, rather than counting the apples in a seed.*

Rosevita, “Apple_IMG_3935.” Rosevita’s Photostream. 21 Sep 2005. 11 Aug 2006 <>.

*Reference to a quote by Robert Schuller, “Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.”

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A Telling Picture of Internet in the Family

Doug Levin, of Cable in the Classroom, shared a report that seems to present an interesting picture of what the Internet means, from the perspective of parents. Presented yesterday, via a webcast, the report shares the findings of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive®, on behalf of Cable in the Classroom. The survey was conducted between July 27 and 31, of 374 U.S. adults who were either parents or guardians of children between the ages of 8 and 18.

Among the findings was that

94% of the participants said that they have “..taken some action to ensure their children’s safe/responsible Internet use.” I found the breakdown of those actions to be very interesting.

  • 88% say that they have talked to their children
  • 82% monitor online activity
  • 75% limit use to open spaces
  • 74% set time limits
  • 55% installed filtering software
  • 54% sought advice from other parents
  • 42% sought advice from school

This breakdown is encouraging to me. The highest number of parents in the survey acted toward their childrens safety on line by interacting directly with their children, by talking and watching. The more procedural actions were less often stated. I’m not sure if this really means anything, but it goes along with what I hear so much from teachers who use student blogging in their classrooms — that they are having new conversations in their classrooms, conversations about conversations. It’s not just the curriculum and content, but how you communicate about what you know.

Contrary to their reliance on talking to their children, only one-third of parents said that they were “..’very knowledgeable’ when it comes to educating their child or children about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly.” This doesn’t discourage me, because I suspect that it means that they were having true conversations with their children, not just telling them what to do. I think that we have to get use to the idea that this new information landscape is something where expertise is not dependent on age. However, we must continue to accept our responsibilities — because judgement is.

Of course “do you consider yourself an expert or a novice” is a really hard question to try to get a good picture of in a survey. It’s all relative. It was interesting to me that only 10% said that they were “..not at all knowledgeable..”

Apparently, a previous survey, conducted by Grunwald Associates in March, also on behalf of Cable in the Classroom, found that 60% of teachers thing that we are not teaching students enough about information/media literacy. 78% said that what they know about media literacy skills, they learned on their own.

The final result that I want to share was actually the first to appear in the report’s presentation slides. 90% of the survey participants said that parents “..have a lot of responsibility for ensuring Internet safety.” 71% said that schools have a lot of responsibility. 49% said that the government has a lot of responsibility.

Clearly, Internet safety is something that concerns us. But I think that it is just as clear that this new information landscape is something that we value for our children.

You can find more information on the survey and the report on the Cable in the Classroom web site, Parenting the MySpace Generation.

"Parenting the MySpace Generation." Cable in the Classroom. 10 Aug 2006. Cable in the Classroom. 11 Aug 2006 <>.

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Impressive Conversation

Miguel Guhlin, after reading my long essay yesterday on video games, recorded a conversation with his seven-year-old son about his video gaming experience. Although the conversation is highly military in nature, which is a bit disturbing, the complexity of this seven year old’s explanations and the obvious depth of learning is astounding.

You don’t really need to listen to all of it, but this is an amazing demonstration of the power of video games as a learning engine.

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Games in Classrooms? or Classrooms in Games?

This is going to be a long one!

 31 44738570 E56A6Ddc1BOur local news paper announced, this morning, that a video game company will be establishing a game design studio in Raleigh, and it got me thinking.
Until recently, video games have been seen, by education, as something that students do aside from learning, outside of the education experience — for fun. A few things have happened that are causing us to rethink video games. The writings of James Paul Gee, Marc Prensky, John Beck, and many others are treating games for what they are, learning experiences — learning engines. There has also been an increased awareness of the enormous impact that video games are having on culture, and what a ubiquitous part of childhood it has become.

To no small degree, the fact that many, if not most, of today’s younger teachers have grown up playing video games. So, one of the emerging topics at this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) was video games. It is not a brand new topic, and it is certainly not causing the stampede that podcasting did last year. But I think that this is important, probably more important in the long view than blogging, podcasting, or the other concepts du jour.

I think that the principal reason why we are being slow to jump on this bandwagon is that we do not yet grasp what it all means. Most teachers have almost now experience with video games. I am, by no means, an authority. I lost interest after Pong, and I am not extensively familiar with all the writings that are available.

However, I have watched and been a part of the whole technology integration thing, and I fear that we are going to go the same path in efforts to improve teaching and learning through video games that we have with computers in general — by integrating video games into the classroom — rather than the other way around.

Once again, I am not a video game player. But I have paid attention, through my children, friends (who are players), and many of the writings, and I believe that the key to using games in our classrooms is not the game, but the experiences of playing the game that make it so compelling. If we can identify and understand those experiences, which are probably pretty fundamental, and then integrate those experiences into our learning environments, then we may hit on something profound in terms of preparing children for their future.

So here are a few of the fundamental experiences of video gaming that I’ve been thinking about:


I suspect that this is a signature component of most video game experiences and also a core characteristic of being young today. this is dramatically different from my childhood, decades ago. Video games, as well as IM, social networks, and even the way that they are treated in the store, are far far far more responsive than my childhood experience. Within video games, every decision, action, collaboration, acquired feature or asset…everything is responded to in some way. Children and teens, today, are accustomed to being responded to. Those from my generation fear that pampered children will be spoiled, and this is probably a justified concern. Still, these responsive information landscapes, where they play, are intensely instructional. They are learning engines.

So how do we adapt our classrooms, instructional practices, and procedures, so that they respond to student learning, rather than merely facilitate teacher presentation? Something we need to be talking about.

Convert-able and Convers-able Rewards:

We reward student work and successful learning with grades. However, grades hold value mostly to their parents, to teachers, and, increasingly, to the government. In video games, students work to increase their level.

What is it about a level that has value? Two things come to mind. First of all, it’s something that they talk about. I often overhear conversations between video gaming youngsters where they are announcing the levels they have achieved in different games. They will then share strategies and short cuts that they discovered or invented in order to achieve their level. Secondly, the level influences the gaming experience. When a student moves to a new level, the game environment frequently changes dramatically. Perhaps you move from a dank cavern to a beautiful shoreline, or the surface of another planet.

Of course you aren’t going to change the wall paper of your classroom, as students achieve a new level in the classroom. But somethings can change. For instance, students get access to new materials in the classroom, a new part of the classroom web site, new formatting features in their blog, access to new software, the ability to use the whiteboard at any time, work in teams in a new way, etc. I think that we simply need to pay a lot of attention to our students, and figure out what is interesting to them.

Personal Investment:

One of the lessons learned by video game developers was that players will return to a game that they have invested in. Many of today’s games require players to generate currency. It might be health points, powers, or an inventory of tools or weapons. It may also be currency, money that can be traded for goods and services within the play of the game. As an aside, there has been much discussion of the real-world trade in digital assets, where people invest their time and effort in acquiring game currency, and then sell it to buyers on eBay.

So students already invest an enormous amount of their time and effort in the classrooms. How do we make that investment sticky, something that compels them to work toward learning. I think that the learning has to be something that is valuable to the students, not just grades. They must be constructing something through their learning, that they can point to, that has value to others, that enhances their identity, and is something that they can and want to talk about to others.

Identity Building:

One of the interesting aspects of many new video games is the players ability to customize their presence. One game that I have played with some regularity is called 1080, a snow boarding game. It’s simple, you play against gravity. I can handle that. But the player can choose his board, its decoration, his/her clothing (and gender), name, and other aspects. In the car racing games I’ve watched, players can customize their vehicles to an amazing degree of specialization.

So how do we help students create an identity in the classroom with respect to the purposes of the room. I could see individual students emerging with expertise in certain aspects of the subject, or procedures in the classroom. If, years later you and class members could identify most of the students in the classroom within the context of what was being taught and learned, then we are building identity. It goes way beyond being the class clown, but thinking about the student as being really good a diagramming sentences, and classmates use to regularly go to him for help.


There is a sense in most video games that the answer to the question or solution to the problem is always there. It is simply a matter of finding or reasoning through the answer or solution. A classroom should work the same way, with a ubiquitous sense that the answer is always close by, that it merely means turning over the right stone, and knowing the stone is a matter of logic and prior knowledge.

Sorry for the long post. But I hope that this sparks some conversation.

2¢ worth…

Image Citation:
DrDemento, “SNK Fighting Game.” DrDemento’s Photostream. 19 Sep 2005. 9 Aug 2006 <>.

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