Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Take Ownership of Personal Learning With Blogs

A few of my colleagues have asked me, “What’s the one thing that has had the biggest impact on your personal learning?” I am personally and professionally reborn as a result of becoming a connected educator. Social networks, and in particular, my PLN (personal learning network) have taught me more about schools, teaching, education, technology, learning, and most importantly, myself during the past two years than my previous 25 plus years spent as a professional educator and student. The single activity that has had the biggest impact on my personal and professional learning is blogging.






Creating a blog requires no technical or coding skills. You do not have to be a great writer to have an effective blog. Blogs provide a web presence with simplicity and versatility. Blogging has been around for some time. John Barger, when describing his site called Robot Wisdom, first coined the term “weblog” in 1997. Two years later, Peter Merholz shortened this term to “blog”. Evan Williams, a co-founder of Pyra Labs (later Blogger), was the first to use the term “blog” as a verb. In less than twenty years, almost seven million people are now blogging. More than ½ of these bloggers are between the ages of 21 and 35, with a majority of them being women. The Internet is currently home to more than one hundred sixty million blogs. Five hundred million people are reading more than fifteen billion blog pages each month. Better than 80% of Fortune 500 companies suggest that blogs are essential to their company’s earnings. 75% of all Internet users read blogs. Blogging is big business!

I wrote my first blog post in Nocking the Arrow, on March 10, 2012. 130 posts, and 135,000 page-views later, blogging is the one thing that feeds my personal and professional learning more than anything else. I tell my wife, Natalie, that writing helps me sleep. While there is some truth in this, writing and posting to my blogs deepens my understanding of issues that I have questions about. Reflecting on my educational experiences helps to crystallize my learning. I have been told, if you really want to understand something, teach it. Blogging, in many instances, is teaching what you have learned to an authentic, and potentially world-wide, audience. Posts become conversations when comments are enabled. These conversations help to broaden perspective, and they can also ignite meaningful learning relationships. 

Anyone who can create an electronic document, such as a Google Doc, can create a blog post. The first step is to identify a concept and a purpose for the blog. As with digital portfolios built with other tools, blogs can be process (conversation) focused, product (presentation) focused, or a hybrid design that incorporates both of these systems. I use the hybrid model for my personal / professional learning blog. The main feed, or body, of the blog contains a chronological stream containing conversations and reflective thoughts. Subsequent pages contain demonstrated competencies, artifacts of learning, and research supporting professional growth.

A helpful feature of blogs is posts can be tagged with keywords making them easy to sort and search, while pages can be labeled making them excellent repositories for categorized subjects or themes. Taking time and putting thought into creating the title and description for your blog is a creative and essential step.The title will go a long way in attracting the type of readers that will benefit from, and actively engage, with your blog. Use of social media and search engines to find interesting blogs to read and follow is a good place to start. Teach-100 provides a ranking of the world’s popular education blogs. Subscribe to your favorites and start taking note of the features, designs, and content that appeal to your purpose and concept.






There are several popular blogging platforms to choose from. These include; WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and Weebly. Knowing one’s own skill level and the comparable features of these blogging products will help to make an educated choice for your blog platform. Blogger makes sense for me because of it’s ease of use, and because nearly all of my cloud-based material resides in my Google Drive. Blogger also allows me to create and publish posts from any web-connected device.

After choosing the blog platform, the next steps would include creating an account, establishing a user profile, and then starting to write. Be sure to take time to become familiar with the user preferences, or site settings associated with the blogging platform. For instance, saving is different than publishing to the web. Typically, I will keep a working tab and a preview tab open simultaneously. Even though Blogger, like Google Docs, will auto-save every several seconds, I frequently save my work, and then refresh my preview screen to see how the finished product will look once I publish. More than 75% of Internet users access their favorite information from a mobile device. This is why immediately after I publish a post, I will review it on my smartphone and tablet to see that the layout and spacing is appropriate for a mobile device.

Will your posts be public, or restricted to a smaller, specified audience? Although I am believer in the benefits of total transparency in learning and communication, this practice of open sharing to a worldwide audience is an intimidating leap for some people. Most blogging products allow the publisher to expand or restrict both viewers and collaborators. In formal educational settings a consideration is the age of the contributing students. If you are considering creating a classroom blog with younger students, extra care should be taken to protect their personal identities. With ease of set up, and built in securities for students, Edublogs is an excellent platform for classroom blogs. Popular blogger, Richard Byrne, shares many terrific samples in this post, 40+ Examples of School & Classroom Blogs, published in Free Technology for Teachers.

Blog comments have the power to turn digital reading experiences into collaborative learning experiences with the added potential for unique global perspectives. However, not everyone has the same moral compass, or digital responsibility as you. If you allow comments, which I recommend, then I also recommend moderating them for more control over what appears on your blog site. In short, start simply and controlled, and you can open things up and take more creative and collaborative risk as your confidence with blogging grows.

As you become more comfortable with the blogging tools, page templates can be customized to taste. Modifications can include changes to colors, page layout, and type fonts. Incorporating other types of media can help break up blocks of text while also adding visual appeal, and enriching information to your posts. Most blogging platforms allow the user to embed photos, video, and graphics into the blog post. Widgets can also be incorporated into the blog. Calendars, social media buttons, search windows, and maps are examples of widgets that can make the blog more engaging and interactive for the reader. (Designing A Beautiful Blog - Dan Leeman)  If generating page traffic and personal branding are important to you, then you should consider purchasing a domain name for your blog. This will make the blog easier to identify in search engines, and more easily associated with you or your brand. Yes, it is possible to earn money through your blog. Direct advertising and indirect marketing of other products such as books, courses, or learning materials are two ways bloggers can earn income. If this is a consideration for you, be sure to thoroughly research the content ownership details for your chosen blogging platform.

Blogging is fun, personally enriching, and supportive of learning communities. Some ask, “Is blogging worth the time and effort?” Yes, you will get back ten-fold what you put into your blog. The biggest challenge I face with blogging is coming up with stuff to write about. Most of the time, I write about the things that I see, or hear, around school every day. As George Couros, one of my favorite bloggers says, “What seems ordinary to you, might be extraordinary to someone else.” Share your learning because you never know who it will impact. Being a connected educator has profoundly enhanced my personal and professional learning. Blogging is the process that I use to document and share this. Blogging is a great way to take ownership of your personal learning.


Related Reading & Resources

Blogging, Who Should and Why - My Island View, Tom Whitby


Five Reasons Your Students Should Blog - The Principal of Change, George Couros

Blogs and Labels Are About Information Literacy - Langwitches Blog, Silvia Tolisano

Blogging Resources for Teachers - Center for Teaching Quality, Bill Ferriter

The State of Educational Blogging 2014 - The Edublogger, Sue Waters



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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gamification vs. Game-based Learning, Who Wins?

Educators are looking for ways to increase motivation and engagement in learners. Gamification, and game-based learning, are increasingly popular discussion topics in educational circles. Research suggests gaming significantly contributes to engagement, focus, and self-determined learning. Anyone who has played Minecraft, Clash of Clans, or Angry Birds understands the intrinsic power of overcoming obstacles. leveling up, and achieving success as a result of improved skills. Recent posts have shouted the virtues of gamification and game-based learning interchangeably, but aren't these concepts vastly different?

While both gamification and game-based learning (GBL) can contribute to motivation, focus, and engagement in learners, these concepts when applied to classroom situations, are not the same thing. Which practice makes a bigger impact on learning? When it comes to gaming in the classroom, who wins?

Gamification


Gamification adds a layer of gaming elements to classroom practices. Key components can include points. leaderboards, badges, and player roles.
Pros - Competitive students can be motivated by point rankings. Learning roles provide purpose to classroom activities. Badges for competencies and contributions can be motivating for learners. Differentiation is built into gaming levels.
Cons - Research by Daniel Pink tells us that extrinsic elements have been shown to reduce motivation in learners. Competition can interferewith collaboration efforts in the classroom.
Example - Chris Aviles, one of my PLN heroes, has gamified his high school classrooms. He does this to foster an environment of interdependence, purpose, and skill mastery for his students. Chris's ability to blend intrinsic motivators (mastery learning) and extrinsic elements (badges) has fostered a classroom of increased student engagement and empowerment.


Game-Based Learning


Game-based Learning utilizes classroom games to engage students in skill acquisition and thought processes that support meaningful, fun learning experiences. Technology enables the creation of games that support differentiation, metacognition, and personalization of learning.
Pros - As you would guess, games are fun learning tools that can increase engagement and motivation. Interactive games coupled with one-to-one devices create learning opportunities that extend beyond classroom walls and bells. More than 85% of school aged children play digital games.
Cons - It takes time for educators, who may not have experience with games, to evaluate and reference them to learning standards. Games can be distracting to other classroom activities. Games are constantly being updated and changed. This makes it difficult to maintain consistency with these resources. Technology limitations can hinder the effectiveness of digital games. (Top 100 Learning Game Resources)
Example - Medical schools and military organizations use simulation games to assess performance under duress. Charlie Filipek has not only gamified his AP Biology courses, but he also uses online games such as Quizlet and Kahoot to formatively assess his 1-to-1 students in a fun and engaging way.






There are similarities between gamification and game-based learning, however the differences are obvious. Gamification is the addition of gaming elements to augment classroom processes. Game-based learning is the implementation of games to reinforce the learning of content and skills. Knowing the similarities and differences, which practice has more potential impact on learning in the classroom? Who wins when games are used for learning?






References & Related Reading


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Game-based Learning - Mindshift Compilation

A Guide to Game-Based Learning - Edutopia, Vicki Davis

Gamification in Education - Edutopia, Vicki Davis

Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students - Edutopia, Douglas Kiang

Game-Based Learning - Edutopia Compilation




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Saturday, October 4, 2014

How Information Flow Supports Connected Learning


Ubiquitous access to unlimited information is creating massive adjustments to modern learning. There are some that say learning, in the traditional sense, is no longer necessary because of the instantaneous availability of boundless information. For example, I no longer need to memorize the names of all fifty states and their capitals because Google will provide me this information in a fraction of a second. These shifts in learning are causing many educators, and with good reason, to reshape their thoughts on the purpose and function of schools, and of education.  



Whether informal or formal, information is feeding our learning significantly. With only 24 hours in a day, how can we possibly make sense of all of the information that is available to us? As with water, electricity, or air, I find it helps to have a process or plan for information flow. Three stages make up this flow model, input, processing, output. Each stage contributes to the overall understanding of a topic or situation.


INPUT

With so much information available to us, it takes a critical eye, and higher level thinking to compare, assess, and analyze the resources that support our learning. Evaluating sources of information contributes to depth of knowledge. The tools that I use most frequently in my curating process include the following; 
  • RSS Feeds / Blogger Reading List - I subscribe to about 100 educator blogs. I have discovered some of my favorite educators on Twitter, others I found through Google Scholar resources, and Teach 100. Efficiency is achieved because I don't spend time searching for new material, it comes to me every day via email, or my reading lists. By subscribing to highly rated, trusted bloggers, I consistently receive outstanding learning material.
  • Social Readers - Zite, Flipboard, and News-360 are my favorite social readers. Besides looking great on my iPad, these apps intuitively "feed" my daily reading list by pre-selecting material based upon personalized criteria, reading habits, and "favorited" stories. Deeper understanding comes from comparing and analyzing varied perspectives. As with my reader list, my social readers provide a never ending supply of fresh material tailored to my interests and needs.
  • Social Media - On demand, personalized learning is made possible through YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, and Google+.  Using channels, lists, and communities helps to narrow my search for relevant material. When I need more than words, these resources provide images and video to help reinforce my learning. These resources deepen my understanding by supporting my preferred learning styles.

Processing


Many times, my processing of digital information is merely reading, and then sharing. I am in the habit of bookmarking and sharing everything I read or view. I have learned so much from what other educators have shared with me, it's just the way a good personal learning network (PLN) works. My processing of information may also include writing a reflective blog post, creating a short video, or building a presentation for a conference or workshop. Frequently, the processing of information allows me to contribute to school, or community based initiatives. In short, my understanding is deepened by consuming what I have read or experienced, and then producing my own interpretation of the newly acquired knowledge.



Output


Authentic audiences force my conscientious effort to share accurate, valuable information. I share to platforms that are complimentary, and readily accessible on any web-connected device. Deeper understanding is achieved by frequent reflection, feedback, and at times, a revisiting or rethinking of my original inquiry. My information output is directed to primarily three sources, my blog, my tweets, and my e-zines.

  • Nocking the Arrow has evolved into my digital portfolio. The main blog feed contains conversational and reflective pieces. The subsequent pages contain presentations, professional goals, and artifacts relating to my professional learning. 
  • Twitter is my go-to app for personal learning. A few minutes each day provides the spark for further inquiry, investigation, and collaborative problem solving. Many of my learning relationships, and professional partnerships were initiated through contact on Twitter. It sounds strange for me to admit this truth, I have more "virtual" friends than I have face-to-face friends. Is this the new normal?
  • Flipboard provides repositories for my favorite "consumed" and "produced" information. Just about any piece of web-based material can be flipped into a Flipboard magazine. My archive is in an attractive, easy-to-read, format. I can invite other collaborators to make contributions, and subscribers can perpetuate the learning cycle.
Here is a visual interpretation of my preferred information flow. One of my goals is to incorporate other forms of media into my flow processes. Although I have grown to love writing, I would like to become better at producing instructional videos. My information flow process has provided greater efficiency in consuming information, while also deepening my understanding through the curating, processing, and sharing of personalized content.



Do you have a digital information flow process? If so, is it effectively supporting your learning? What do you think of this flow model? How does your information flow compare?

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