Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Wouldn't you know it? Just as I give up on Facebook they go and pull a wiki!

Maybe I should start this post with an explanation, my main reason for social networking is to learn and grow professionally. As a teacher I also think it is vitally important that we try and understand our students' world, and where suitable and/or possible implement their tools of expression in the learning environment. As such I applied to join Facebook to find out first hand what it is, to discover what the pull is, what people do on Facebook and to see if it held value for my own professional development and/or as an educational tool.

Recently Social Networking has become a 'buzz' word in Education, networks built on Ning, such as Classroom2.0 and many others, have become hubs of educational discourse and activity. Israel saw the launch of Edureshet the SN for Israeli Educators (built on the Hebrew translation of Ning) and many Israeli Educators have started testing the Facebook waters, I too decided to give Facebook a second shot.

Two days ago I decided that Facebook still didn't 'do it' for me and in order that my friends wouldn't think I was ignoring them posted this status message: "given up on Facebook can be found on twitter or edureshet".

A friend, asking what it was about Facebook that I found so frustrating, made me realise that I had never really tried to pinpoint it.

Wouldn't you know it, I went in to facebook to find out why I didn't like it, only to discover that they have added a wiki application!

Notwithstanding the wiki app, I still don't see myself Facebooking very often, the list of reasons seems to grow longer minute by minute - so here goes...

1) One of my main frustrations is the need to actually go into facebook to get updates. I would much prefer an RSS feed that I could access using the reader of my choice, or pull in to other services, then again, is it neccessary to have an RSS feed to follow the amount of nonstuff that comes through Facebook?

2) The privacy options are still very unclear to me, I've looked at them a few times but find them hard to understand.

3) I find the page organizer very unfriendly and the lack of customization options annoys me.

4) The page that greets me when I enter facebook serves to distract rather than focus. Instead of getting on with work, I find myself either reciprocating to various forms of inane cyber affection/abuse - pinches, pokes, hugs and smiles - or wondering whether I really should bother to compare myself to people I don't even know, or find out just how Jewish I am, which of course will involve giving permission to yet more applications to access my facebook profile.

5) Advertisements - We are not supposed to use services which include ads with our students -

6) The need to allow applications to access their accounts over and over again would make using the service wisely very difficult for the Non English Speaking school student, they would more than likely agree to everything or disallow everything just because they didn't understand what they were being asked.

I realize that not being a particularly social animal or a "fun" person, I am probably not in a position to make the most of what facebook has to offer. But I do wonder how many other users are, like me, just trying to get a picture of what facebook is and will eventually decide it is not for them.

When I just started using Social Networks I found Classroom20 built on the Ning platform to be an excellent entry point and in fact on Classroom 20 I made most of the connections with whom I continue to be in contact today in other networks.
On Ning, discussions and topics are tagged so that information is easy to find. Every blog and forum has an RSS feed. There's no need to add more and more applications in order to participate in conversations or add content from other services. While profile page customization is still limited there are more options and it is much more userfriendly than facebook. Within a Ning Network the opportunity to discuss topics with other members without having to join their circle of friends enables one to make wiser decisions about friend requests.

Today I find twitter to be an extremely useful service for networking with edufriends. When used in conjuction with a messenger - twitter is open all the time, but takes up no browser space, the messenger window just pops open whenever an update is posted, and posts can be made using the same messenger window. If using Gtalk, all twitter notifications are saved in gmail chat archives and therefore searchable. There is an rss feed! (and many other useful applications provided by twitter fans.) Of course twitter updates also include a lot of by the way information, but unlike Facebook, there is no guilt associated with failing to reply.

I will probably regret not counting to 10 before posting but what the heck! Forgive me - it is still New Years Day after all!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Setting up dummy student mail accounts for Ning registration

Ning Social Networks do not require email confirmation for registration, therefore students can easily sign up using a "fake" or "dummy" email address based on 1 mail account.

There are 2 ways to go about setting up dummy mail addresses:

If your school has its own domain you can check about a "catchall" mailbox, either on your mailserver or by way of google apps for education - "CatchAll" catches mail sent to your domain but to mail addresses that don't exist. eg lets say that heather@yourschool.edu doesn't exist, any mail sent to that address would go straight into the catchall mailbox. So your students could safely sign up using any @yourschool mail address.

The other way to do it would be to set up a gmail account under your name or any other name you choose eg: heather@gmail.com. Then when signing up students for ning you would give their email addresses as:heather+STUDENTNAME1@gmail.com, heather+STUDENTNAME2@gmail.com etc.

These solutions would only be useful for signing up to sites that don't require email confirmation.

As the seperate mailboxes don't exist rather one mail account is catching all the mail, your students don't have access to the incoming mail, it cannot therefore be used as a mail service.
However students can access private messages from within the ning network, and teacher will recieve a copy of these messages in the dummy account.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Creating a Social Network for elementary students

Created in trailfire http://trailfire.com/susant/trailview/53008

Preparing Younger Students for Social Networking Places Langwitches

In her blog Langwitches makes the point that whether social networks are meant for elementary age students or not ..
"It is one of those instances, where you know that the children are going to "do it anyway", no matter what the rules are. The best approach, in my opinion, is you teach them to be safe in any social network environment. So the next best thing would be, since we can't (and wouldn't) all sign-up for MySpace accounts and hang out there, is to create our own Social Network site, where these younger students can try out their wings in a safe and controlled environment."
View mark summary

Having discovered last year that some of my 5th and 6th grades had opened accounts on a less than savoury SN, I decided this year to open a moderated child friendly network for them. In fact I opened 2 networks one in English for my 6th grade EFL students(trail mark 4) and another in Hebrew for my 5th grades.
This was harder than it may seem as there were at the time no suitable Social Networks in the Hebrew language. Luckily I had the summer vacation to translate the Ning platform ,set it up for right to left languages and learn the var ious options along with other classroom20 members as we played fake "students" (see next trail mark for demo site)
One of my main concerns was the fact that members of a Ning network must sign up with an email address. This address can then be used to send private messages to members' mail boxes.
I decided the best way to deal with this was to set up a catch all mail box on our Google apps (trail mark 5) school mail and have students join the site with a "fake" email address. There are 2 advantages to this system, 1) students do not receive mail from the ning network 2) all mail and "private" messages sent through the network can be viewed by me.
Picking usernames. Past experience has taught me that often my students will pick less than suitable usernames and have a tendency to forget their passwords. As they wouldn't be able to check their own email in the event they needed a password reminder I needed a system which would allow me to easily find their messages in my catchall box. This would also make it easy for me to recognize each student by his email address when accepting membership requests. Each user name is a combination of the classname+childsfirstname - luckily in our school each intake year has a name which stays with them from g1 to g6. (If we didn't have that system I would have had to create it.) I highly reccommend keeping a printed copy of usernames and passwords, having students write them in their diaries and making sure homeroom teacher also gets a copy.

Setting up acceptable use policy/guidelines. I took my students on a guided tour of the already active forums on our school website, pointing out messages where children had obviously forgotten the fact that the forum is not a private messaging system.
We then spent some time creating a set of guidelines. These include: Remember that the web is hackable, do not post private information such as: full name, tel nos. addresses etc. , do not arrange real life meetings through the network - even if you think you are talking to your best friend. Do not post any content that may insult, hurt, embarass or threaten anyone including yourself - this includes text, photos, videos and mp3s. If someone insults, hurts, embarasses or threatens you - report it to me by any means available phone, mail, through the school web site and tell a responsible adult such as a parent, or teacher. Do not reveal your password to anyone, if content violating the guidelines is posted to the site under your user name, your account will be closed until we can discuss the matter in school.

The last step before having students request membership was to have them create or pick an avatar, and to explain that I would not allow photos of themselves, their friends or families.
I see my students once a week, things are moving slowly, some students are taking advantage of the network from home, others are using it only during our lesson. A couple have started writing blogs, others are enjoying uploading pictures and music. So far the kids are working within the guidelines, I'm hoping that will continue to be true, but if not we'll take advantage of the situation to revisit ,review and revise if neccessary .
View mark summary

Classroom 2.0 Sandbox
Learning the application with an eye to using it in education - security issues, moderation
View mark summary

EFL20: Ning in the elementary EFL Classroom
In grade 6 we are experimenting, using a ning network as an EFL learning space.
View mark summary

Google Apps For Education

Gmail and catchall mailbox
Google Talk
Google Calendar
Start Page
Google Docs
Page Creator
Control Panel
Etensibility APIs
View mark summary

Ning in Education

Ning is sponsoring this network to provide support and help to educators, and to get feedback from the educational community to continue to improve Ning.
View mark summary

Also worth checking out: imbee.com

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do 13 of Us Rule The Virtual World - Poll

Out of sheer curiosity, I've added a poll to the sidebar of my blog. This is one of the new features rolled out by "blogger in draft" . (Other features are: video upload from within the editor; a google search engine which can be set to search: your blog, your blog and sites you link to from within your posts, and the 'whole' web.)

The poll question "How Many Online IDs Do You Have", is one that my fake identities and myself have been asking on and off, since we read that "MySpace Hits 100 Million Accounts" in Mashable a year ago.

We were reminded of it yet again when we received the following quote from Jay's (or Yankel)'s "Boidem" column, after he uncovered yet another of my IDs.

"In Thomas Pynchon's classic novel V. people admit to ruling the world, even if it isn't completely true."
"..Stencil shrank at the cold air moving in through the window.
"I'm not a priest. Don't try appealing to someone you've only known in a written confession. We do not walk ganged, Stencil, all our separate selves, like Siamese quintuplets or more. God knows how many Stencils have chased V. about the world." "Fairing," Stencil croaked, "in whose Parish Stencil was shot, preceded your Father Avalanche."
"I could have told you. Told you the name."
"Saw no advantage in making things worse."
Stencil's eyes narrowed. Majistral turned, caught him looking cagy.

"Yes, yes. Thirteen of us rule the world in secret." "

..... need I say more?

Obviously the poll is just a bit of fun . However, in my "real life" I am constantly surprised by seeming contradiction between the statistics and how few of my acquaintances/colleagues/employers even know what social sites and web2.0 are. Could the statistics be based on the multiple IDs of users like myself? If so, what, if any, are the implications?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Well, I've never been tagged so this is a first 2 times over, (that's what comes of keeping multiple blogs.) I think this could be an excellent getting to know you exercise in a collaborative project between different classes/schools, so thanks to Reuven Werber and Ken Pruitt for passing on this idea.Anyway, here are the rules:
  • Post these rules before you give your facts
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

8 Random Facts About Me
1. I hated school and swore I would never be a teacher.
2. At 13 I got my first "job" selling flowers in an outdoor market
3. My favorite book is 100 Years of Solitude
4. I can't see the letters on my cellphone in order to send text
5. My strangest job was teaching EFL over the phone in conference calls
6. I'm left handed but use the mouse with my right hand
7. I still intend to learn to play piano
8. My husband, 3 children, 2 dogs and I live on a farm in Israel. Uninvited guests in my house to date: a family of sheep in the living room, a cow at my front door, a bat in my jeans, and the occasional snakes, scorpions and lizards (almost makes me miss England!)

So those are my 8 random facts - I'm going to tag Anne Mirtschin Larry Ferlazzo HG Lindquist from here and JoNelle Gardner, Hans Feldmeier, DDeubel Eduardo Lina Susanb from my other blog.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Getting the most out of web20 in the classroom - You teach my students I'll teach yours.

I've spent the last year learning up on technology in education and in particular web2.0. My toolbar overflows ... and yet I'm stumped whenever I try to sit down and think what to do in the classroom come September, unable to focus, unable to make a decision. How do I create a meaningful experience, for a heterogenous class of about 30 students, in one 45 minute weekly lesson? How do I multiply that by 6 grades? Past experience has taught me that I can't please everyone, no matter what "project" I choose/build/create for my classes, collaborative, international or not, it won't suit every student. I could have students research a topic of their choice. However when I tried this in the past I found it very difficult to be the lone mentor, mediator, guide and teacher for so many students on such a wide topic base.
The beginnings of an idea, "teach my students and I'll teach yours".
  • Teachers create and publish online 1 collaborative distance learning "project" - this could be achieved by opening different groups on ning, imbee, haiku, edu20 etc.
  • Individual students would register for the project of their choice
  • We become the online teachers/mentors of the students who registered for our project and mediator/assistant for students in our classes who are working on other projects.

Our students would benefit from: choosing a subject that interests them, working with a teacher who is a specialist in the subject they have chosen, meeting and working with other students who share similar interests.

Of course, I know this would take a lot of planning but is it at all feasible?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Google Book Search, making the worlds Public Domain Works accessible to all.

Recently launched, a new feature of Google Book Search which makes public domain works more accessible. Any public domain work in the index is accompanied by a link to "View Plain Text", once in the plain text version, the book may be accessed by adaptive technologies such as TTS readers and Braille display. It is possible to read the whole book on line, download, save and print to PDF.

Now when is Hebrew TTS finally going to become a valid option?