Archive for January, 2012

The process we went through to start blogging

 So the class of 2012’s blogs and Twitter accounts are off and running. I want to take a moment to detail the process I’ve gone through before and with them to get to this point. I think its going to be a long one so I’m just going to write a step-by-step list with little rhetorical flourish.

Edit: I have left it vague; a rough sketch—if you want more detail about a specific step, just let me know…


  1. I was part of a committee that was looking at ways to improve gifted education in YRDSB a couple of years ago. Among other things, we explored the integration of technology and social media (shockingly:). I was pushed a little and encouraged to use Twitter with my class as part of the process. I was resistant, but I capitulated. I should not have; I was not ready. I was unprepared, and I don’t think that it was useful or even safe for my students. I continued to learn (by myself) because something in it appealed to me. It was a useful learning experience to me

  2. I became certain, and continue to maintain, that a teacher should not explore technology or any technique/content with students. You should explore it first yourself. If you are going to open a door to students, you had better know how, and you had better know what’s on the other side first. I have blogged this sentiment several times on this site.

  3. I learned more: I read articles from Techcrunch, GigaOm (specifically @mathewi). I read some Clay Shirky (“Here comes everybody”, “Cognitive Surplus”), I re-read Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman. I read some Danah Boyd.

  4. I continued to use Twitter and other social media on my own. I started my own blog and made my own mistakes

  5. I had many conversations with my principal and vice-principal as well as board consultants. I developed my own robust permission/consent form/appropriate use of technology

2 years and some experimenting later, I was willing to try it again….the following are steps my class and I went through this year to get ready for January and February’s Journalism/Web 2.0/SM unit/ Public Discourse:

Part 1 – Exploring Media:

  1. we define media and explored some McLuhan and Postman. We explore a broad definition of what is media. We learn about how different media influence messages and have their own limitations. We learn about “hot” and “cold” media and the effect the receiver has on the message (but also how the media effects it as well).

  2. We explored Neil Postman’s “5 ideas we need to know about technological change.”

  3. We use it as a analytical framework for media using tools like:

  4. We explore brand creation and its relationship to people’s self fashioning as we explored advertising. I would have liked to spend more time on ad techniques and audience interaction (next time).

  5. They work on a series of “Media Koan’s” to get them looking at media differently and critically (you can see some of them here:

Part 2 –The Moodle Years:

  1. Our class uses our moodle course quite extensively. From the first week they are building a community of learners and are using digital tools to help each other and extend their learning beyond the classroom. There are many wiki’s, forums, topics, and discussions.

  2. They are introduced to Tucker’s rules for using social media

  3. They practice the skills of digital citizenship before they are formally introduced to the topic (at least from me). Before the “blogging unit” the average student has posted well over 100 times on our course.

Part 3- The ISU

  1. As part of the gifted program at our school, students participate in an independent study unit loosely based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (not that I’m the biggest fan, but it serves-with a few changes)

    1. Students select a topic that has a controversial element and begin researching and learning at school and at home. We teach a parallel curriculum of research skills and note taking that I would like to make more robust next year.

    2. Students demonstrate understanding of their topic in a interview

    3. Analysis (we think it should be 3rd before application-even if this violates Bloom’s). This year we skipped this because of time but it involves laying out, in an organization web, all the facts relevant to a topic (well within reason)

  2. students brush up over the winter holidays and first week back in Januray to hopefully have a good grasp of their topic before the blogging starts

Part 4.. “Corporations are people,” and “The news about the news”

Since there is so much talk about “free” services out there, I try to break down that barrier so they can see these business for what they are-businesses

  1. We talk about the driving ethics of business- for profit, branding and niche marketing. We look at Unilever and its strategies for the Dove and Axe brands.

  2. We look at types of news and the purpose of news from different stakeholder’s perspectives.

  3. We analysis the problem of corporate media control and SM as a possible counter force.

Part 5 – What is the internet really like?

Running parallel to parts 2-5 above, we start our social media/journalism/web 2.0/public discourse unit (some of the below items run concurrently)…

  1. We pre-teach vocabulary and concepts

  2. We discuss business models of “free” services like Zynga

  3. We discuss in detail issues of privacy. (for example: (“networked privacy”) , , , I discuss elements of: Why Privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide: by Daniel J. Solove, with them as well

  4. We explore the concepts digital footprint and digital citizenship. We host discussions on our moodle and bring in an array of sources.

  5. We discuss related internet issues that the students find and bring back to a moodle hosted discussions

  6. We discuss the effects of networks and being part of a community (and the production of hyper-local news

  7. We talk about the “Who owns the digital you” series by Tim Chambers

  8. We talk about how Twitter and SM are publishing and broadcasting networks and how they are different from a conversation. We learn about the implications of Danah Boyd’s work: 4 ideas of the internet persistent, replicable, searchable, scalable (“Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi); the dangers of the invisible audience; and

  9. We have discussions about some of the following (dependend on time or where we menader arround:

    1. real name policies: , , , “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power , (again) , and

    2. other issues as discovered by their earlier serachs and conversations

  1. Other safety

    1. (especially the 3rd in the list)

    2. And corollary issues like:

Part 6 –Their turn?

  1. I introduce them to the complexities of Twitter and some of the issues: reinforce the 4 Danah boyd principles and the invisible audience, Spambots, etiquette, offensive content, and how to use twitter well. We gather and look at sources for twitter and blogging. We talk about the different uses of twitter and the like. We primarily use twitter to build an audience and advertise blog posts to drive traffic to our discussions

  2. Students decide which strategy they want to use for entering public discourse from here: They are also free to make their own moodle course and mimic the process if they feel they are not ready (given the time spend on caution, I don’t feel I can make it mandatory…this year 2 students chose this option…we made them teachers of their own moodle course and they use that as a website to host their classmates or others they invite into discussions on their topic).

  3. Students make their first 10 tweets, and I review them carefully. We discuss clarity, long term consequences, digital citizenship issues. Once their first 10 are vetted, they are approved to tweet at will!

  4. Finally, the part that the public sees: Students begin to build their own posts or comment on the posts of others depending on their chosen strategy, tweet to drive traffic to their posts, build audiences, engage in discussions, and learn….

Part 7 – Their learning log:

  1. Students record their activities and their thoughts about them on their learning log (hosted on the class moodle) which I monitor, continuously assess, and eventually evaluate

That is the sketch…I feel I’ve left a lot out….might have to update. But in the meantime please consider following one of my student accounts and commenting on their posts. They can be found here:








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Our bid for Best Buy’s “The Best in Class Fund”

Best Buy has a program of offering grants to schools to be used on digital technology.  Our school went through the process and was awarded $20,000. Many thanks to Stephen Hurley and others for starting and encouraging the thinking and exploration that led us to this point.  We still have other areas we are continuing to focus on based on this article: and two posts by Stephen Hurley that I continue to lose the links for.  Hopefully, he (or someone else) will respond below and post the links to his blog posts on “imagination rooms” and “invigorating the front entrance to a school.” Both posts I believe are on hosted on the CEA’s website.   Here is the text from our successful bid.  

Best Buy Essay Contest

Question 1: How do you plan to use the technology with your students to inspire and enhance their education? Please be as detailed as possible (500 words).

We plan to use the technology to enhance our students learning experience at Glen shields in four areas:

1) We plan to invigorate our front lobby as a communal learning and sharing space that promotes student learning and community/parental engagement. Our plan is to create a space that can be used by students, teachers and parents to meet communally to interact and work on their own projects. We envision a space that encourages collaboration and welcomes a school’s diverse set of stakeholders to met and share in learning. We require computers, technology to support video conferencing and video editing, and a television to broadcast announcements for this space.

2) We wish to create an imagination room in a section of our library resource centre. This would offer a student center where they would be free to pursue self-directed and collaborative learning activities with a focus on critical thinking and inquiry through a lens of creativity and innovative exploration. We require computers, tablets and an LCD projector, technology to support video conferencing and video editing, Livescribe pens (allows you to digitally record everything you write and say) and other experiential learning kits (like circuit boards, robotics, etc.) available in this space.

3) We are interested in filling some of our public spaces around the school with social learning centers. Similar to the imagination room, these would be hubs of self-directed social learning and inquiry. We want to include computers and other technology resources dedicated to supporting an interactive and inquiry based learning experience.

4) We’d like to augment the technology already available as part of the classroom program. We require additional LCD projectors, computers to increase the size of our portable laptop/netbook labs, etc.

Together, technology in these 4 areas would allow us to offer diverse learning experiences to our students that would otherwise be impossible. Given the limitations of our current resources, technology has primarily been dedicated to classroom use and the instruction of students. We would like to dedicate this new investment in technology to further promote student learning and experimentation. This would allow us to offer the following experiences more efficiently and effectively to our students: virtual field trips to increase their understanding of the world in which they live, skyped connections to others – to have our students not just learn about others but to learn from others in an innovative and interactive way; work with all stakeholders (parents and students) to create videos to facilitate flipped classrooms; access a school Moodle course to foster an internal learning community and access points to develop learning communities outside the school through the integrated use of social media.

We feel that such opportunities will raise the level of engagement of some of our students experiencing learning challenges and provide valuable outlets for our more independent and creative learners. Independent access to learning tools and social learning contexts will provide a voice in our school community to groups that have been traditionally silenced or lacked voice as they access the rich environment offered by social media through digital technology.

Question 2: Tell us more about the students that would be directly impacted and how they would benefit from the grant. (250 words)

Our school is a microcosm ofCanada. Our school is an incredibly diverse school; this offers the same advantages and challenges of Canada as a whole. We service a community that includes a high number of recent immigrants and ELL learners, a diverse array of socio-economic realities, a large visible minority community, and gifted learners. Many students in this school have only limited access to digital technology, the Internet, social media and independent self-guided learning. Digital technology will help us service the diverse needs of this group. It will allow us to provide both a common experience of base instruction and learning, and it will allow us to focus on each student’s specific needs and interests.

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Student Twitter Account Roll

Most of my students chose to use Twitter and blogging as part of their independent study unit.  These are my student’s Twitter accounts dedicated to their independent study topics.  They would appreciate a follow and a visit to their blogs (Some aren’t quite ready for visitors yet….).  Their handles indicate their topic; hopefully 1 or 2 of the topics interest you.  This is a good opportunity to demonstrate the value of twitter, instead of just re-tweeting requests to “see how far a tweet can go…”



@dystopia_soma Blog:

@gmfoodopinions Blog:

@Shalit_deal Blog:

@em_radiation Blog:

@saudirights_rz Blog:

@FactoryFarms1 Blog:

@NuclearinCanada Blog:

@bestr8againsth8 Blog:

@cloning2 Blog:

@pitbullbanning Blog: 

@ChildCare458 Blog:

@D_Euthanasia Blog:

@Recycle_Smart Blog:

@aff_action2 Blog:

@hans_liberation Blog:

@beautypageants1 Blog: 


@WebIssues Blog:

@Globe_Warm Blog: 

GeneticModify1 Blog:

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Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our practise of Digital Citizenship…


Eventually, I say we need to add ‘forgiving’ to our meaning of Digital Citizenship…

A couple months ago, I lost my enthusiasm for blogging. At some point during the discussions on twitter, my blog; and other blogs, about my post, “Should Kindergarteners be on Twitter?” I realized I was no longer enjoying it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I learned some lessons from it, but I still found it hard to move past it and post again (yes I have two posts after it, but they were written and posted as the conversation was continuing about kindergarten). I have many ideas for posts that I’d like to write, and I think about them quite a lot, but I need to get past that discussion first. I hoping this blog will be part of that and a start to push me to write more. I haven’t read through the comments again but I know someday I will…The part that dragged me down the most was, during the discussion I was constantly (or so it seemed) labeled arrogant (something I felt/feel was unwarranted).

I think that comments sometimes become the context your post is evaluated in; you’re known by the company you keep, as it were. Once someone labels you as arrogant or any other label, it pushes others to see you similarly—where they might have given you the benefit of the doubt before, the context of “arrogant’ pushes them to interrupt your writing a similar way. No matter how: I tried to soften my message; I tried to leave parts of it as agree to disagree; I tried to accept part or at least partly accept what others were writing, I could not escape the charge of arrogance once it had been raised. I think that I had a sense of the ‘principle of context’ before I started. One of the reasons I argue / respond to my comments at such length is because I don’t want to leave it to influence others….I want them to consider my points separate from the context (at least initially….after they have formed their initial impression of me or my point, then other comments just serve to give them more to consider rather then a light to understand me by…). I think this is something basic about blogging that we all should understand…

Why does this happen?

I think that people are influenced by the context of text on the Internet more than in face-to-face. Ads, fonts, comments, etc are perhaps used to replace some of the missing information that we’ve evolved to seek out and interpret in face-to-face communication. I’ve heard many times that most of out communication is non-verbal. People point out: tone, pitch, speed, facial expression, body language, social context as aspects of communication that help construct and interpret meaning. On a blog these aspects are largely missing. We get a shadow of the rich communication we are used to. In the absence of these aspects, people are still looking for more information to inform their interpretation or that information is streamed to them unbidden to enhance/obscure the original intent.

Because we are writing for the invisible audience in a de-contextualized, persistent way, messages require more interpretation on the part of the receiver to construct meaning. Because more is required from the receiver, they influence their interpretation of meaning more. Because of this, there is inherently more chance of misunderstanding intent/meaning on the Internet then there is is face-to-face communication.

Given the above premises, what should we do? I would like us to emphasize a new component of digital citizenship (could be just the emphasis that is new). People are good at articulating the need to be polite and thoughtful as part of citizenship; now I am suggestion they also have to push the need to: give the benefit of the doubt; be generous in your interpretation of others; realize your influence on the message you’ve decoded; seek clarification; be empathic; and most importantly, be forgiving.

This will help everyone, including your students. On web 2.0 tools people are learning. Inherent in that statement is that they will make mistakes (me, you, your students). The mistakes can be many and varied. You may be teaching your kids to be careful and thoughtful, but obviously they will make mistakes too. It behooves all of us to make an environment that is tolerant of mistakes, understanding of mistakes, and forgiving of mistakes. This needs to be part of out digital citizenship as well because without it -because social media is persistent and scalable– it is too dangerous an environment to learn in….people will be labeled, judged, regarded on their learning process, not themselves at the ‘end’ of the journey or after they’ve learned more…

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