Created by Ruth Elliott

Welcome! Join me as I reflect on my learning journey with Web 2.0 tools. I'm sure I will find bandwagons to jump on along the way. Let's enjoy the trip.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Danah Boyd's Research with Online Safety

Danah BoydImage via Wikipedia

Help me find innovative practitioners who address online safety issues requests Danah Boyd in her blog apophenia :: making connections where none previously existed. She asks for teachers, administrators, and others who seek to educate youth about online safety to assist her.

I came across Danah's name when I was following some suggestions for women in technology to follow on Twitter. With each woman, I have taken a look at their Tweets and also at their blog or website if they have one. Then I decide if I would like to follow them. When I read what Danah had to say on her blog, I thought I would pass it on to you. You may be interested in assisting her in her research or you may know of a colleague who would be interested.

Here's what she has to say in her blog post of July 30, 2009: "I need your help. One of our central conclusions in the Internet Safety Technical Task Force Report was that many of the online safety issues require the collective engagement of a whole variety of different groups, including educators, social workers, psychologists, mental health experts, law enforcement, etc. Through my work on online safety, I've met a lot of consultants, activists, and online safety experts. Through my work as a researcher, I've met a lot of practitioners who are trying to engage youth about these issues through outright fear that isn't grounded in anything other than myth.

Unfortunately, I haven't met a lot of people who are on the ground with youth dealing with the messiness of addressing online safety issues from a realistic point of view. I don't know a lot of practitioners who are developing innovative ways of educating and supporting at-risk youth because they have to in their practices. I need your help to identify these people.

  • I want to know teachers. Who are the teachers who are trying to integrate online safety issues into their classroom by using a realistic model of youth risk?
  • I want to know school administrators. Who are the school administrators who are trying to build school policy that addresses online safety issues from a non-fear-driven approach?
  • I want to know law enforcement officers. Who are the law enforcement officers who are directly dealing with the crimes that occur?
  • I want to know people from social services. Who are the people in social services (like social workers) who are directly working with at-risk youth who engage in risky behavior online?
  • I want to know mental health practitioners. Who are the psychologists and mental health practitioners who are trying to help youth who engage in risky practices online? Or who help youth involved in self-harm deal with their engagement with self-harm websites?
  • I want to know youth ministers. Who are the youth pastors and ministers who are trying to help at-risk youth navigate risky situations?
  • I want to know other youth-focused practitioners. Who else is out there working with youth who is incorporating online safety issues into their practice?

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are speaking about what these practitioners should do, who are advising these practitioners, or who are trying to build curricula/tools to support these practitioners, but I want to learn more about the innovative practitioners themselves.

Please... who's incorporating sensible online safety approaches into their daily practice with youth in the classrooms, in therapy, in social work, in religious advising, etc.? Who's out there trying to wade through the myths, get a realistic portrait, and approach youth from a grounded point of view in order to directly help them, not as a safety expert but as someone who works with youth because of their professional role? Who do I need to know?

(Feel free to leave a comment or email me at zephoria [at] zephoria [dot] org.)"

If you would like to comment on her blog entry, go to .

November 19, 2009
Addendum to the above blog post

After reading danah boyd's request for those working in the front-lines with on-line safety for youth, I sent her an email. Since then I have passed resources on to danah that I have come across for online safety resources.

Today I received an email from danah saying that she is now working on collecting many resources for online safety information. She asked me to pass the email to those who are interested. If you would like to know more, either leave an email address in the comment section of this post or contact me on Twitter (RIElliott).

I know there are many excellent resources out there for helping youth stay safe.

Remember that students who are at risk online are usually those students who are at risk off-line as well. (Can't remember who said that but it has resonated with me.)
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Check out the Trends

Trafalgar Square Plinth Goes Purple

In an earlier post, I mentioned the Trafalgar Square Plinth (remember three sides with huge statues and one corner with just an empty plinth.)

On Twitter someone mentioned that the organization, Wellbeing of Women was recognized on the plinth for one hour. Here is the story of Ally Steel and the purple balloons on the plinth.

All of us have a platform for influence. How will we choose to use it?

Find your plinth and your purple balloons.
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Social Networking - My Titanic Trepidations

"Ships that pass in the night and speak to each other in passing" (Wadsworth Longfellow)

I found this quote in my thesaurus under "ship". I've been thinking about the necessity of closing off the watertight compartments on a ship in case of a breach to the system. (See Titanic information.) As I approach the subject of social networking, I think about the ubiquitous presence of Facebook as the giant of social networking. I have had a Facebook account for over a year now. Many of the Web 2.0 tools that I have signed up for have given me the option of linking to my Facebook account. I have not linked any of them to Facebook. I feel uneasy about doing so. I am worried that the watertight compartments, within the ship that is myself, will start taking on water and I will sink. Maybe these fears are irrational but I am concerned about privacy and security and being transparent and yet professional in revealing myself online.

I do desire to be a ship that speaks to others as we pass in the night. However, I don't want the communication to be an S.O.S. call.

(The photo on the right was taken on the bridge of the Queen of the North ferry while my husband and I were travelling from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy [an all-day journey]. Eight months later this ferry sank along the same route. Some people say that shenanigans on this very bridge led to the disaster.)


Titanic's watertight compartments. At Online at

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bricolage? Meshup? Mashup?

A few years ago in Canada, we were given a new two dollar coin. At that time, we had a one dollar coin that had been circulating for a few years. Our one dollar coin had been dubbed the "loonie" because of an etching of a loon (a bird that often lives on northern lakes) on the coin. When the two dollar coin came out, no one knew what to call it. "When the coin was intro

ToonieImage by John Biehler via Flickr

duced [in 1996] a number of nicknames were suggested. Some of the early ones included the bearie (analogous to the Loonie and its loon), the bearly, the deuce and the doubloonie (a play on "double Loonie" and the former Spanish doubloon coin)." (link) Eventually the popular word for the Canadian public was the toonie. This became so acceptable that the Canadian Royal Mint copyrighted the word "Toonie" in 2006.

There has also been discussion about what to call a web application hybrid. The popular term is mashup. However on the wikipedia site about mashups, within the discussion section, there is disagreement about what to call this new hybrid. One person suggests calling it a "mesh-up" because it is connections between applications rather than a blending or mashing of applications. Another individual suggests the term "bricolage" which is "a term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts and literature, to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things which happen to be available, or a work created by such a process. The term is borrowed from the French word bricolage, from the verb bricoler – the core meaning in French being, "fiddle, tinker" and, by extension, "make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)." (Bricolage) A person who uses bricolage is a bricoleur. (MacGyver would be considered a bricoleur as he always uses found objects (a stick of gum, some duct tape, some tin foil) to solve problems.) Mash-up or mashup is the name that has become most popular.

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...Image by

via CrunchBase

What is a mash-up? In March of 2007, Seth Godin, in his influential blog, said, "The mainstream media doesn't understand what a Mashup is. You should. It's not a 'lift' or a 'copy' or even a parody. A mashup is a distinct way of spreading ideas. When a DJ takes two records and melds and mixes them into something new, that's a mashup. When an Obama supporter takes a twenty year old commercial and splices it with some campaign footage, that's a mashup too. Online services can be mashups as well, like the Google search box on the bottom of this page. Expect to see tens of thousands more, on every conceivable topic."

Not everyone agrees with Seth's definition. On the Discussion part of the mashup wikipedia page, one editor suggests that "A mashup combines data from more than one source and integrates that data to create something new and unique. The merging of datasets provides unique events that we can act on, which gives the mashup its uniqueness. At its simplest form we define a mashup as being the intersection of this data combination and event generation process. However in practice the mashup will usually provide more features around the data and events. Typically we see a nice presentation of the information. We also see new processes and events being generated and run as a result of these events. I hope I have convinced you that a mashup has to have this generation of unique events that was not possible before the merging of the data or functionality." (link)

In my understanding of a mashup, it takes data from two applications and combines them to create something new. In my opinion, until recently, the mashup has been the purview of techno geeks and those who know code. With the advent of sites like VoiceThread and Animoto, an attempt is being made to give the common folk (like you and I) the option of bringing two sets of data together to create something new.

Before I discuss VoiceThread and Animoto, I would like to share with you some more information about mashups. There are many web mashups listed at These mashups are categorized. Many that I looked at were aimed at helping you find a restaurant. A lot of mashups seem to combine maps with some other application or data set. Even at the Flickr site, there is the option to locate the site for your photograph on a map. (This would actually be something that students could do after a field trip.) Twittervision provides a realtime display of Twitter posts on a map around the world. When I spent a few minutes watching, people were posting in Japanese, Spanish, English (the majority), and French. Here are some more examples of mashups with their links:
  • A mash-up from China (no idea what it's about but check out the characters) -
  • A mash-up about the Tides (Generates Saltwater Tide Charts, Weather Forecasts, Sunrise and Sunset times, Moonrise and Moon set times, and Moon Phase details for thousands of Tide Stations accross the US and South America. This could be useful in school for doing an ocean study.) -
  • Mashlight - Build your mashup with blocks: e.g. Yellow pages block, Google map block, movie listing block for planning a night out (Not sure if this is a blog entry about NightPlan or the site for the mashup) -
  • Wordpress geo-mashup maps -
  • Campus Map ("The Campus Map is a mapping mashup developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to provide students, staff and visitors of the university a detailed overview of the campus and facilitate exploration and guidance. The mashup integrates data from several services and sources, e.g. a facility management system to provide information about buildings, rooms, equipment and occupancies. Furthermore, the mashup allows authenticated users to attach data (like descriptions, hints and pictures) to significant places of the campus and presents the data on a map." [link] This mashup would have an educational application for college or university campuses. It would also assist users to quickly see whether various classrooms and boardrooms are booked at a certain time. All users would have to be diligent in entering new data to keep the system up-to-date.)
Mashups are such a new entity that Will Richardson does not mention them in his textbook which was published this year. For this reason it was more difficult to do academic research with them. One example of a very recent mashup will illustrate my point about mashups being cutting edge technology. I believe that the educational implications will emerge as the technology becomes more accessible for the non-technical user.

On February 21, 2009, in Michal Migurski's blog he suggested a new mash-up. He wanted to be able to print off a map from OpenStreetMap, add his own markings to it to make it more local and specific. Then he wanted to have a way to scan or upload his pen or pencil markings to make them part of the online map system. This blog entry is fascinating because it reveals so much about this new entity of mashups and how they occur. One creative person has an idea about something which (in this case) will make life easier. That same creative person has enough technical expertise to describe in detail what this mashup would look like. Other people weigh in with their advice and technical tips (Read the comments on this blog entry.).

Here's what it says at the Open Street Map website. "OpenStreetMap is a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by people like you. OpenStreetMap allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth." (link) It was interesting to look at the User Diaries on this site. People were writing in using German, French, Spanish, and Japanese (I think) just in the past two days. This concept of a map which is a wiki is obviously striking a chord with people around the world.

On July 6, 2009, Steve C. wrote on the site blog about 3D Routing Through OpenStreetMap-3D. "Users now can plan a route online at and then interactively fly along the route presented in 3D. Currently the routing is available for cars (fastest/shortest) as well as for pedestrians or bicycles for all of Germany. It is also possible to create an animation that follows the 3D route automatically. The application is powered by an extended version of and uses the free data from and the Open Location Services (OpenLS) specifications of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)." Now that is one useful mashup!

This is what has happened in response to Michal Migurski's suggestion in February 2009. "Walking Papers is a website and a service designed to close [the] final loop by providing OpenStreetMap print maps that can be marked up with a pen, scanned back into the computer, and traced using OSM’s regular web-based editor, Potlatch. It’s designed for the casual mapper who doesn’t want to fill their pockets with gadgets to record what’s around them, the social mapper who might be out and about taking notes and comparing them with friends, and the opportunistic mapper who might make notes during a commute or a walk if they had a notebook-sized slip of paper to write on. Finally, it’s designed for the luddite mapper who would like to help the OpenStreetMap project but needs help from a distributed community to convert their handwritten annotations into OpenStreetMap’s tagged data and local conventions." (link)

Using Walking Paper, people can add the location of streetlights, washrooms, automatic tellers, stairs, and various stores and restaurants. I'm impressed with how quickly this mashup moved from the idea stage into reality. Take a look at this scanned map which was uploaded into Walking Paper. Note the red writing on the map.

Could this very recent mashup have educational implications? I think it could. When students go on a field trip, they could take along a printed map from OpenStreetMap. As they go, they could look for various things--stores, addresses, streetlights, mailboxes, etc. and mark them on their map (clipboards and pencils would come in handy). Later they could upload their information to add it to the map for their location.

(Just of interest, at this site, I came across something called a Whitelines notebook It has a light grey background with white lines on a grid. When scanned or photocopied, the lines disappear.

Besides the above examples of mashups, I have noticed that Mack Male uses mashups to put data together on his blog. He will take Edmonton Twitter use statistics for a month and combine that data with something like the weather to see the peaks and valleys of the use. Recently he wanted to use data from the Neighbourhood Crime Mapping Web site to mashup to create other ways of visualizing the data.

On my blog, I have a cluster map which combines a map with statistics about my visitors (which country they are from, how many in the past 24 hours). I think that this is an example of a mashup.

Now on to VoiceThread and Animoto. Both of these are mashups with easy user interfaces so that teachers and students can use them. In earlier blogs I have used the technology to produce a VoiceThread and an Animoto video. I see them both as embryonic (an early stage, undeveloped, rudimentary) uses of mashups. Much of the creative control is taken away from the user (especially in the case of Animoto) but both are a good way to start using mashups.

Weir (2008) says that "VoiceThreads might best be described as interactive media albums. They are essentially online slide shows of images, documents, or videos that enable viewers to comment on any slide (or at any point in the video) by typing, recording an audio or video comment, or drawing on the image itself."

One teacher asked students to voluntarily comment on VoiceThread photos that he posted online. He was amazed at the numbers who commented. One difficulty I had with VoiceThread was that when I tried to record another comment, it put that comment on the end of my first comment. People need to log in with different user names and pictures in order to have more boxes around the outside of the VoiceThread picture. Comments may be added via a microphone, the telephone (which costs money after the first three minutes), or by typing.

VoiceThreads would be excellent for talking about historical photographs. For many more ideas about the use of VoiceThreads in educational settings see Using VoiceThreads with Students and Ed VoiceThread. There is a VoiceThreads wiki for teachers. If you wish to introduce VoiceThread to your colleagues, there is a printable PDF tutorial on VoiceThread.

One educator is concerned that teachers may substitute online discussions of photographs for real life learning. Gary Stager (2009) says, "Don’t you dare tell me about your online field-trip to Belarus when your students no longer visit the firehouse. If your idea of project-based learning is students burping into Voicethread because that’s all they can accomplish in a 42-minute period, then you are not ready for the virtual world." Will Richardson used this term "burping in VoiceThread" in one of his blogs and referred back to this comment by Stager. I think it is like any one of these new technologies. We need to use them to keep our students connected and interactive with each other and with the real world outside our doors. I think Mack Male is a great example of someone who is so connected online but also eats at local restaurants, visits the fairs, is active in local politics, and seeks to make a difference in the world around him--just outside his front door.

There is a site with information about giving students some criteria for their VoiceThread comments. (When I read these ideas, it reminded of what I do when I am reading one of my classmate's blogs or discussions posts. I generally jot down ideas as they come to me so that I can make meaningful comments that connect me with that post or that person.) Here are the ideas:

  1. Gather Facts: Jot down things that are interesting and new to you
  1. Make Connections: Relate and compare things you are viewing and hearing to things that you already know.
  1. Ask Questions: What about the comments and presentation is confusing to you? What don’t you understand? How will you find the answer? Remember that there will ALWAYS be questions in an active thinker’s mind!
  1. Give Opinions: Make judgments about what you are viewing and hearing. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Like? Dislike? Do you support or oppose anything that you have heard or seen? Why? (Link) The site also suggests some sentence starters for students to use.
When I think about my Caswell Homes Project wiki, I could see (if it is possible to embed VoiceThread photos into this wiki) that it would be excellent to have visitors and contributors view some historic photographs and be able to comment immediately and interactively with that photograph. Others can hear and read their comments.

Lastly, I would like to briefly discuss Animoto. When I first visited the site, I watched their introductory video and viewed a sample Animoto video. Then I jumped right in. It was easy to create my video although uploading it took awhile. They gave me the option of going away and returning later. The written directions on the site had a very nice conversational tone. I added too many photos at first (they did warn me) so

Image representing Animoto as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

had to keep returning to delete more photos. I was surprised that some of the music at the site was not free. I wanted to choose a classical piece but they all cost money. So I selected something with words.

I think students would love Animoto. There is an Animoto for Education site. It has sample videos created by teachers and classes. Some were powerpoint slides.

Since Animoto videos are very brief, I could see them being used more as a montage of images. Perhaps each week at the school assembly, a different class could show an Animoto which gives 15 images of the learning they did that week. I liked the samples of the Anti-bully Animoto. These Animotos look very professionally done and would work well for public relations. Perhaps each school could have an Animoto on the front page of the school website.

The downside of Animoto is that besides providing photos and a music selection, it removes students or teachers from the creative process. The Animoto site does suggest that one should have a theme or storyline when selecting the photographs. Perhaps that is where students could be more creative. I would like to explore the use of PowerPoint slides more with Animoto. Students could be as creative as they liked with the PowerPoint creation and then insert the pictures into Animoto.

This has been my whirlwind journey through the world of mashups. Many of the documents along the way were written in a foreign language (computer technological talk). I'm sure that in the next few years there will be many more applications of bricolage, meshups, and mashups as technological applications are combined to produce new and wondrous creations. We will be so thankful to the MacGyvers of this world for taking items and combining them in unique and unexpected ways to make technology delight us in new ways.


Bricolage on wikipedia. Retreived on July 28, 2009 from

Godin, S. (2007). Definition: mashup. On Seth Godin's Blog. Online at

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcast, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Stager, Gary (2009). Learning Adventures: Transforming real and virtual learning environments. At Stager-to-go. Online at

Weir, L. (April 16, 2008) VoiceThread extends the classroom with interactive multimedia albums At Edutopia. Online at

What's a Voice thread anyway? Video at

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Land of the Living Skies on Animoto

I love living on the prairies. Saskatchewan is the land of the living skies--snowy, sunny, cloudy, stretching forever.

VoiceThread VaVoom

In learning about multimedia sharing, my first learning stop was at the VoiceThread site. I am very excited about this learning tool. I could see its value in viewing archival photos in particular. Since I have established a Caswell Homes Project wiki in which one of the stories is about a streetcar, I could see the potential in embedding a streetcar picture in this wiki. Then visitors could add their recollections to the photograph using Voice Thread. I need to explore a little more how to use the telephone to record voice. Some people with a contribution to make may not have a microphone hooked up to their computer. I guess they could always type a comment as well. I could see that this VoiceThread would have many benefits in a classroom setting. It could give students a way to engage with each others work while also allowing parents the opportunity to see artwork and photography created at school. Even students in the younger grades could draw pictures of themselves and their families. Then they could record their thoughts or even type a few sentences to talk about their life.

In the city of Saskatoon, we have the Western Development Museum. They have an excellent website. They have partnerships with both of the school systems in the city and have done joint learning projects in the past. What if they created a set of 25 pictures (that's just an arbitrary number) of important artifacts in their museum. They could invite their volunteers to record their recollections of using those items. Since the museum is set in 1913 (around the time the streetcars first started running in Saskatoon), many of those my Mom's age would have used the museum artifacts when they were younger. Quite a few years back, when my grade 5 class worked with a group of seniors, we took a field trip together to the Western Development Museum. Each senior took his or her student(s) on a personal guided tour of the museum. It was an amazing day. I am concerned that we are losing those important stories of the past. VoiceThread will give people a way to tell those stories. However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, those born digital may need to assist the digital novices in order for those stories to be told.

I'm sure there are senior citizens who would love the opportunity to share their pictures and their stories with our students. We have only to invite them.

(Black and white photo is of my Dad, Don Sanders, during World War Two. He passed away May 8, 2009 at the age of 86.
Other photo is of Mrs. Sylvia Birnie (see my blog post of July 23, 2009 re Sylvia Birnie, My Leading Lady for a bit of her extraordinary story) with the grade 5 student who was her partner in the Generations Can Connect Project.)
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Streetcar in the Warehouse District
The streetcar picture was scanned from the book Saskatoon's Electric Transit: The Story of Saskatoon's Streetcars and Trolley Buses by Easten Wayman.

Wayman, E. (1988). Saskatoon's electric transit: The story of Saskatoon's streetcars and trolley buses. Toronto: Railfare Enterprises Limited
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H1N1 Flu - Lessons from the Spanish Flu

At our recent family birthday party, we were discussing the H1N1 flu. Mom mentioned the Spanish flu. I don't know much about it except it was a long time ago and many Canadians died. Mom said that it happened at the end of World War One when the soldiers brough

NARITA, JAPAN - APRIL 29:  Passengers come out...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

t it back with them from Europe. The flu was quite widespread in Europe but no one was telling the folks back in Canada. The media controls weren't quite as stringent in Spain so that is where the story first broke. That is why this flu is called the Spanish flu.

Unfortunately the soldiers were not quarantined in Europe but were returned home to Canada. They went all across Canada, taking the Spanish flu with them. This is what I learned from my Mom. (I'm actually going to phone her and ask her to comment on this blog post. I'm sure I've gotten some of my facts wrong.)

Are there any lessons for us with the H1N1 flu possibly causing a world epidemic of illness and death? (See Amy Bowllan's blog post at for her ideas about how to prepare ourselves as teachers or school systems.) What struck me was that with the Spanish flu, people were kept in the d

1896 Telephone, hand cranked magneto on right ...Image via Wikipedia

ark. With H1N1 flu we have received so many updates that it is almost like H1N1 fatigue so we're not taking this threat seriously. With the Spanish flu, people were kept ignorant and isolated so that perhaps they did not take the precautions we might take today. We obviously have much better communications systems today--they probably had telegram, letters, and telephones for personal communications. Did the soldiers in Europe have the opportunity to communicate with their families back home about the flu? Did they even know it was an epidemic? How should we be using the excellent information flow that we are part of to combat the threat of H1N1?
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Duckling Diaries

For the past two years my class has raised baby ducks. The ducks waddled and quacked around our classroom. Students read with the ducks. They found a book about ducklings for the ducklings to look at.

Just as the duck reads (or looks as though it is reading) a duck book, I also like to read books related to my world and my reality.

Recently I discovered two (new to me) Canadian authors who set their books in places in which I have spent time. The first book that I read was Last Stop Sunnyside by Pat Capponi.

In this book, Dana and a band of down-on-their-luck friends live in a rundown rooming house on the mean streets of Parkdale in Toronto. Several times a week they gather in the common room for a reading night. Dana's "job was to read aloud, a chapter at a time, from a book that was selected by majority vote after a brief verbal synopsis of a half-dozen titles. Literacy among the tenants was in short supply, but democracy still thrived. . .Mysteries were big, especially writers like Janet Evanovich (her assortment of bizarre and eccentric characters were people we could recognize and identify with) . . ." (p. 23). I love the line about literacy being in short supply but democracy still thriving. It tickles my funny bone.

The second book which I just finished yesterday was Terry Fallis' The Best Laid Plans. This book is set in Ottawa, Ontario. I have some relatives there so have visited this city from time to time. When Terry writes about the M.P.s (Members of Parliament) walking to the Central Block in the midst of winter, I can picture what he means. When my

The library, as seen from the interior.Image via Wikipedia

family took a tour of the Parliament Buildings, we had the privilege of visiting the Library of Parliament. If I had the opportunity to do all my reading and writing in that library, I would. It is majestic and awe-inspiring. I want to quote from two mentions of this library in Terry's book.

The main character Daniel says "I usually became misty-eyed and foggy-headed in the Library of Parliament, so I often forgot things there. I thought of the library as one [of] my favourite places in the world. In one of Canadian history's few spasms of generosity, the fire of 1916 spared the library and its immaculate woodwork while razing the rest of the original Parliament building." (Fallis, 2007, p. xiii)

A few months later Daniel takes his friend, Angus, to visit the Library. "I stood aside and let Angus pass into the three-tiered wooden glory of the Library of Parliament. An alabaster statue of Queen Victoria towered over in the centre of the circular library. A handful of staff laboured under her benevolent gaze. I fell silent and listened for Angus's reaction. I was rewarded by his sharp intake of breath at the sight of three levels of ornate, wooden shelves, which circled the perimeter of the room, and the arched windows in the domed, sky-lit ceiling. I'd

Cover of "The Best Laid Plans"Cover of The Best Laid Plans

entered that place dozens, even hundreds, of times and always felt a slight wobble in my knees as I passed over the threshold. As I anticipated, Angus was similarly moved." (Fallis, 2007, p. 166)

From poor people on the skids in Toronto to two university professors in Ottawa, from two students with their pet duck, to myself with my addiction to reading--books, reading, libraries--we all love them.

(Check on the right hand side of my blog [above cluster map] to see my latest reads.)

Baglio, B. (2000) Duckling Diary.

Capponi, P. (2006). Last Stop Sunnyside. Toronto: Harper Collins Publisher.

Fallis, T. (2007). The best laid plans. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Shape Shifters Par Excellence

In Tony Hillerman's novels, he often refers to shape shifters which were part of the Navajo belief system. Yesterday, as I tried to simply explain wikis to my Mom, I told her that it is a website which you can't change. Then, at the touch of the edit button (as long as you have some type of access to that site), it changes into a document that you can change. Once you have made your changes, the shape shifts again at the touch of the save button. It becomes a website again. This is brilliant and elegant. It means you don't have to know html code or even how to use a web page creation page. As well, there is a place on the internet for your web page and your website and you don't have to worry about uploading it yourself.

Eleven years ago, I created the first web page (with about 400 linked pages) for my school. I downloaded some kind of program from the internet and worked away. I had teachers work with students to produce work for the internet. I believe I also scanned student art for some classes. Then I had to link everything together and ensure that all the links worked. Lastly, I had to work with our head office IT people to get the whole thing uploaded to the internet. Where were wikis when I needed them? (Actually, that process was very satisfying creatively. I inserted all kinds of animations and moving gifs. I could create the pages exactly how I wanted them. There is probably a way to do that with wikis but most of the pages are produced using a given template so they tend to look quite similar to each other. The focus is more on the information provided rather than on an aesthetically pleasing end result.) After I produced that first web page, I taught the community school coordinator how to continue the process and she took it over. She soon far surpassed her teacher in creating amazing web pages.

Wikis become an online collaboration tool for creating, correcting, and publishing information to the internet. One person can begin the process (a first draft, so to speak) with others chiming in to deepen understanding, fix errors, and branch off in new directions. In this way, it is different from a blog post. An individual in a blog creates something that belongs to him or her. Then other people may bring in their thoughts and changes to the original concept. However, that first person's blog entry does not change. Sometimes the comment thread supersedes the blog post itself in importance as the community puts in their two cents worth. However, on a wiki, that first post can be changed (shift shapes) over and over as new contributors add their understandings. Wikis can be online conversations as contributors decide what the

Caption textImage via Wikipedia

wiki will say together.

There may be some issues with wikis. There is a way to provide various levels of privacy on wikis. However, many of them are open for anyone to edit. This can lead to vandalism and inaccuracy. I loved the story in Will Richardson's book (2009) of the professor who tested out Wikipedia by placing thirteen errors on several Wikipedia posts. Within a few hours, all of the errors had been corrected. Since the next editor of the page can see which changes have been made and revert to an earlier, correct version, I think this again is a strength of wikis.

Some wikis may not be up-to-date or current. There is a way to see how recently a wiki has been edited. As well, those who are setting up a new wiki may put all of the infrastructure in place first so that there are many links to pages with only a name at the top of a page. However, if a wiki creator jumps in (as I did with my wiki on Caswell Homes) and starts creating pages willy-nilly, each page has information on it but the organization system might be a mess from the start.

Since wikis are co-constructions, ownership of product is a problem. I could see that at a university, where professors are expected to publish and present original work, it may be very difficult for them to move into a wiki world. If you give away all of your ideas for free, who will pay for your ideas. Who will read the books you write or pay to listen to you at conferences? Actually, giving away your ideas for free can widen the audience for your ideas. Will Richardson has published two editions of his book and people (like me) are buying it. If Will was coming here to Saskatoon and I had to pay to hear him speak, I would do it. But back to the collaborative work on wikis, the lack of ownership can lead to writing by committee. It may be disjointed and inelegant. It seems to me that the focus of wikis is generally upon disseminating information rather than upon beautifully crafted pieces of writing. (You can't be all things to all people.)

The tone in wikis should be neutral. Even if someone has a personal point of view, it should be expressed in a measured and calm way--not a nasty, vitriolic (biting, caustic, sharp, bitter) way. We can agree to disagree but don't be rude while you're disagreeing. On Saturday, as we were returning from the Rider game, we were listening to the post game show on the radio. Many callers to the show were upset about various aspects of the game. Usually the radio personnel would engage with them in discussing the events of the game. However, one caller was nasty and said we should get rid of the coach and the quarterback. The radio host said good-bye very quickly to that gentleman. So there is a way on wikis, as well, to explain your point of view but in a neutral manner. Teachers need to work with students to develop skills in digital citizenship--polite, democratic. Students need to develop good value judgments about the work they produce and the work they edit on wikis.

Another issue with using wikis in the classroom is lack of control for the teacher. (Prensky, n.d.)
"Never mind that new technologies give our kids access to whole new worlds--they may not be worlds the teachers can control." Even the difficulty of marking individual assignments removes some of the control teachers have over work and learning in the classroom. I think the benefits far outweigh the lack of control. One teacher said that in the future he may include a wiki aspect for each assignment within his class because the level of cooperation and collaboration and quality product which his students are inspired to create.

One last issue with the use of receptive wikis in the classroom (like Wikipedia) is the teacher's fear that they are inaccurate. (Wasn't it only recently that Google allowed wikipedia sites to come up when someone did a search for a topic? This means that Google feared that the popularity of Wikipedia sites would drive them to the top of the search list, driving other, more reliable sites further down. I guess that Google has realized that Wikipedia sites are accurate and acceptable when people are searching for sources of information.) In Richardson's book (2009), he debunks several myths about the inaccuracy of Wikipedia. Besides the aforementioned case of deliberate errors inserted by a professor (quickly edited by the online community), experts were asked to read Wikipedia entries within their fields of expertise. They found the entries to be very accurate.

So how could a teacher use wikis in the classroom? They could be used as receptive tools for the teacher to gather information or ideas for the practice of education. Eduwiki was one site I discovered. This site was created on July 20, 2007. There are now 2103 pages in the main section. The home page alone has been edited 904 times with the most recent edit on that page made a few days earlier. From that page they host free online workshops for learning to use wikis. There are certification levels within these workshops. There are other places in which teachers can sign up for free online classes to learn to use wikis. There is a five week course which begins today in blended learning in the classroom. Check out the schedule at this link. They have a list of the participants--30 signed up, many from North America. There was one participant from Mongolia. At Learning4Content, educators from around the world are invited to join them. They say

WE also extend an open invitation to all educators around the world to join us as well.

Open Education Resources (OER) is becoming much more pervasive in tertiary education. Developing content which can be shared within one institution, or across continents represents a powerful paradigm shift in the distribution methods of learning content and courseware from traditional publishing models to those which are open and collaborative in nature. Major initiatives from leading institutions to provide open courseware further support the growth of this segment of online learning.

There is a video (through Blip TV) called Wikieducator: Learning 4 Content which is fascinating as people from Morocco, Australia, and Israel check in for the class. They are having two special guest speakers. One speaker talked about WikiEducator. The video is over 50 minutes long so I didn't watch the entire program. When students had a microphone they were able to speak. Most of the students just wrote their chat questions and comments on the side. The facilitator invited the students to introduce themselves. I heard someone from Germany speaking and introducing herself. We think we are scattered geographically in this class but this online class is even more scattered.

At Learning4Content, it suggests that you could ask your employer/institution to sponsor a L4C Workshop - by contributing access to a computer laboratory for the training. That would be great for a school system--they could contribute the computer laboratory and L4C would provide the professional development.

In my Grade 2 class, I thought of some ways I could use wikis. Last year we learned about bugs in our class. Each student selected a bug, found information about that bug, did jot notes, and finally created a document with a few sentences about the bug. Then they inserted some pictures from the internet. If I were to do this project again, I would have students insert their documents into a wiki. Then parents could see the results of our work. Students could even work on the project at home where their parents could help read the books or websites to help them find more information. Students could read each other's information.

Towards the end of the year, our class worked on a collaborative story. Three students drew pictures of the characters who became the main characters in the story. (The characte

Canned sardines in salt waterImage via Wikipedia

rs were Batty, the black bat; Wall-E, the rusty robot; and Slippy, the Emperor penguin) We worked on developing our story as we sat and talked about what problems these three friends could have as they interacted with each other. We decided that they were going on a field trip to the zoo. Each of them had a favourite snack (packed by their mothers) and were eager to share their snacks with each other. Batty's favourite-mosquitos; Wall-E's favourite-rusty nails; Slippy's favourite- sardines. Bingo--we have a problem (I had taught them that every story needs a problem). Solution (after much discussion in small and large groups) was that they all love chocolate-covered doughnuts and stop to buy some on the way to the field trip. Next we developed the characters. And on and on it went. At the end of the school year, I sent all the information home with the students and asked them to keep working on the story (or more chapters of it) in the summer. Oh, if only I had known about wikis. We could have put everything as we went along on a class wiki. The cross-checking we did from group to group (Hey, Wall-E group

Illustration of topspinImage via Wikipedia

. Does Wall-E have any pets? Would Batty eat Wall-E's pet insect?) could have been done more easily as we collaborated on the computer. Next time, eh?

I did find an example of a collaborative on-line story created by a grade 3 and 4 class. (Story) The story is about a tennis ball called Terry. The class is from Australia. If teachers need more ideas about using wikis and other technology in the classroom, the K-5 Computer Lab Wiki looks like an excellent resource. It is well-organized with a table of activities. There is a template provided so that teachers can add additional computer activities with links to them. There is a Wiki about books for children (

For students in university or university professors, there is a wiki with activities for University classrooms produced by an engineering professor. There is a wiki about using digital research tools. There are many ideas about turning voice into text (transcribing) which will come in handy for me next year as I interview people for my thesis. I need an easy way to turn voice into text.

Last night as I talked with my extended family about some of the learning I have done in this course, I wanted to send them to my blog to learn about some new tools. My sister-in-law owns and operates two care homes for senior citizens. Some of the residents have families living far away. The families are always wanting pictures from the latest birthday party or event at the care home. My sister-in-law tries to send pictures attached to emails. I told her about Flickr and how easy it would be to put pictures up on Flickr for those families to view. I told her about using tags on the pictures so she could create a picture set for each resident. Then I worked with Mom on adding information to my Caswell Homes wiki. I have also been thinking about talking with the librarian in charge of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation resource center. Possibly my blog could be a catalyst to encourage other teacher-librarians in developing their Web 2.0 skill set.

All of a sudden the audience for my blog changed. I'm not preaching to the choir anymore. I may be presenting information and the process of sharpening tools to those people who aren't going through this process with me (like all my lovely and handsome[1] classmates are). I want to go back and fix some of my blog posts. I want to ensure that I explained enough of the process so that others can follow my steps and missteps. If I say, I uploaded this or that, I have glossed over the process and just presented the final product (Ta Da). How will that help anyone else? So from now on, I will try to write my blog posts for a new audience.

A salt mill for sea salt.Image via Wikipedia

As I return to the title of this blog--Shape Shifters Par Excellence--I think it is we teachers who really need to shift shape. We need to invite our students to bring a tasty dish for the Potluck Dinner on the Web. If the dish needs more salt, someone will add it. We need to move away from the banking model of schools (Paulo Freire) in which the teacher knows it all and attempts to pour it into the student. We need to value the cultural capital and stores of knowledge which each student brings from their world into ours. Then together we can build a storehouse of knowledge in which everyone contributes and everyone belongs.


Prensky, M. (To be published). Search vs. research or the fear of the Wikipedia overcome by new understanding for a digital era. Retrieved at

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcast, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Natives build scaffold for Novices

Sunday evening family birthday party. Five cousins playing on 3 DS's. One grandma entering information on a wiki. She's recalling her experiences with streetcars in earlier days in Saskatoon. I have created a few more pages on my Caswell Homes Project wiki so Mom can add more information. I asked her if there would be others in her apartment building (mainly senior citizens) who would have computers and be willing to add to my wiki. She said, "They're old. They don't have computers." Mom has a computer because the family helped her get one. I sent her the link for the wiki and showed her how to get back into it to add information to the additional pages.

This experience helps me realize that the people who have the oldest stories to tell for my Caswell Homes project wiki, may also be the people who don't have computers (the digital divide). If they do have computers, they may use them for Web 1.0 things like surfing the net and sending and receiving emails. So why not put the digital natives (like the five cousins using the three DS's) to work assisting those with stories to tell to put those stories up on the internet.
The digital natives can provide the scaffolding to support those with stories to tell, to place those stories on the internet for others to discover and add to. Tonight my Mom said, "I don't remember how much it cost to ride the streetcar." I said, "That's alright. Someone else will remember." I asked my brother-in-law if he remembered the Saskatoon Arena which used to be downtown beside the Saskatchewan River. He remembered Bruno Gerussi riding a Zamboni at the Arena. He remembered the asbestos falling from the ceiling. I inveigled him into typing those bits of information into the wiki. (One of the homeowners helped start the Saskatoon Arena.) Every little bit of information will trigger other people's recollections of personal his-story and her-story.

Before I continue on with other ways to use wikis, I would like to talk about my own process of discovery in creating my own wiki called Caswell Homes Project. After looking around on the internet and reading through the Trailfire articles, I understood enough about wikis to jump into creating a wiki. I wrote down the names of the three recommended web-based wiki sites. Then I came across the Wiki Matrix where I compared all three sites. The three sites were P

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - FEBRUARY 24:  Donated p...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

B Wiki, WetPaint, and WikiSpace. I watched some YouTube videos on PB Wiki. PB stands for Peanut Butter since creating a wiki was supposed to be as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich. The first PB video was about how to get started making a PB wiki. Another video gave ideas about how teachers were using wikis in their practice. In How Do You Use PBWiki? teachers were using wikis so that students could find definitions for new vocabulary, to centralize documents, to organize other wikis, to support the textbook (jigsaw learning-students would gather information for various chapters and post it on the wiki to help other students), to decrease and focus meeting times by posting agendas, documents, and possible issues ahead of time, and to do web design evaluation. I decided that I liked what I saw about PBWiki. My only reservation came when I discovered that recently they have changed their name to PBWorks. (For more information about how this name change may impact users go to this page: Why has PBWiki changed to PBWorks? . I went to PBWorks to sign up for a wiki space. I filled in all the forms and then received a message that one of their representatives would be in touch with me. So far (30 hours later), no phone calls or emails from PBWorks. So I have not set up a wiki with them. They sounded friendly on their YouTube videos but so far the customer service is lousy. I decided to try WikiSpaces next. I filled out forms. However, when I reached the part about paying for the service, I backed away. I thought I read somewhere that WikiSpaces was giving away thousands of sites free to educators. Maybe they ran out of free sites or I did something wrong. (I think one thing I run out of quickly in this course is patience. I don't wait more than ten seconds before I move on if a site is not loading or something is not working.) I think that Shirley was able to create a WikiSpaces site. (My practice is that I don't read the other blogs about this new tool, until after I have completed my blog entries about that tool.)

Image representing Wetpaint Wiki as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase

I was left with my final choice which was WetPaint. Fortunately (kind of like being picked last for the team) they didn't know they were my #3 choice. I found their site very user-friendly. I set things up with full privacy. However today when I went back into the wiki, I realized that I was excluding my classmates and professor from even visiting the Caswell Homes Project wiki. So I threw the doors wide open so anybody can find the wiki and make changes. (It's back to the old, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, did it really fall idea. Probably no one besides my classmates will read this wiki. No one will find it by happenstance.)

When I watched the video about PBWiki/Works, it sounded extremely easy to make new pages which linked with old pages. However, when I tried to do it that easy way (click on a word, turn it into a link, a new page opens), it did not work in WetPaint. Today I spent more time looking around at the Edit tools in WetPaint. I discovered that I first needed to create the page on my Table of Contents. Then I could highlight that word in my text on another page and link it to the corresponding page. Unfortunately I am already very muddled organizationally. I just jumped in feet first and started creating pages. I am hoping I can go back and put some organization into place. For example, with my Mom's input, I created two pages that really belong within a page that has not been created yet--the page for the house at 419 25th Street West. As well, after the fact, I have searched out some videos that will fill me in on some of the WetPaint ideas that I may have missed in my rush to get my wiki underway. Here are some links to WetPaint tutorial videos (As I reflect upon it, aren't these YouTube videos created by Digital Natives who are scaffoding for me (the Wiki novice) so that I can build a wiki.)
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Who me? Make a Wiki?

Many years ago, I learned an Irian Jayan word from a missionary who had lived there. In the mountainous region where he worked, when people were amazed they said, "Wee Wow!" Ever since that day, I have used the phrase "Wee Wow" when I am feeling astounded or surprised. (This reminds me of a terrible movie that I watched once called Wrong Way Goldfarb. It was set in the desert with a pilot who got lost and ended up in a harem or something. The reoccuring line was "Wrong way, Goldfarb." Ever since watching this movie, whenever I go the wrong way, I think, "Wrong way, Goldfarb." But I digress.) Today I am saying, "Wikis. Wee Wow!" They have so much going for them. They are webpages which can be turned into documents that editors can change. The editors are just regular people, for the most part, who have gotten access to the page. The goal is to collaboratively create a collection of information which anyone in the world can access. The information has been created, edited, revised, and organized by people like me.

Wikis can be used in schools (more about that in another post) but can also be used in a more restricted way within any community. An office or company could use a wiki rather than sending out innumerable emails. City councils could use a wiki to set up the agenda and make documents available that need to be reviewed before the next council meeting.

In my previous post, I talked about the receptive and productive nature of wikis. Yesterday when my husband and I were driving to Regina for the Rider game (They lost. Edmonton are you happy!), I was telling him about wikis. (He was a captive audience.) He asked if there was a wiki about NavCanada and the navigational beacon that we always see on the way to Regina. I told him that I didn't know but I could help him to set one up. (Since then I have investigated and there is a wikipedia entry for Nav Canada [address])
At that point I wasn't even sure that I knew how to set up a wiki but sometimes the best way to learn is to teach someone else.

My husband confessed that he was just testing me about a Nav Canada wiki (There is actually provision for a Nav Canada wiki at Wiki-Project Canada. They are begging for information on Canada so that Wikipedia can tell Canada's stories more completely.) He said that he was more interested in creating a wiki about Trail 57 in the Prince Albert National Park north of Prince Albert. My husband likes to do bush biking. Recently he attempted to ride through Trail 57 from the Narrows to the town of Waskesiu. It is 40 kilometers of an old road. The road is no longer maintained. In fact, even the culverts have been removed from the road. My husband's progress was eventually blocked by several continuous beaver dams which he could not navigate around. So he would like to start a wiki to gather information from others who have successfully completed this trail. I told him that there are other wikis about trails. (See Trails wiki connection.)

I have now created a wiki about something I am passionate about--the history of some of the older homes in the Caswell neighbourhood of Saskatoon. Here is the URL for my wiki. I will continue to add more information to it. I will invite the homeowners and those interested in the history of the area to add their knowledge to this wiki. Perhaps the podcasts of the Caswell walking tour could be housed within this wiki. So the answer to the question, Who me? Make a wiki?, is "Yes, I can make a wiki".
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Toolbox bulging. Why Wikis?

A toolbox, from Biltema)Image via Wikipedia

As I approach each new tool within this alternate universe of Web 2.0, I write two words at the top of my page--Receptive and Productive. What can I take in or receive using this tool and what can I produce using this tool? A few tools back (before my tool box became so heavy), I learned about videosharing. I treated this as a receptive tool. Our professor, Jennifer, suggested that I should have created a video to upload to the internet myself. Since then, I have thought about creating or producing something with each tool.

However, beneath my reflections on the receptive and productive possibilities with these tools, there is a underlying awareness of the nouns and verbs of our practice. In Will Richardson's blog post of July 12, 2009, Marc Prensky made this comment:

“Verbs” are the skills you, I, Ravich, and everyone else thinks people should know, and learn as students. They include the skills you mention above: to collaborate, to solve problems, to think critically, to be creative, plus many others: e.g. to persuade, to present logically (I list 50 in my new book.) These verbs or skills, as Ravich points out, don’t change very much over time.

“Nouns,” on the other hand, are the tools (aka technolgogies) people use to practice and do these skills. Nouns have always changed over time, e.g. memorizing to writing, papyrus to paper, quills to fountain pens, handwriting to keyboarding. Today nouns are changing extremely rapidly: Powerpoint to Flash, email to IM, Myspace to Facebook to Twitter, encyclopedias to Wikipedia, local disks to cloud, reading to watching short video, laptops to smartphones, etc.

A typical ten-inch student slide rule (Pickett...Image via Wikipedia

In my view, our goal should be that our learners use, to the extent possible, the best and most up-to-date nouns (tools) to learn and perform each key verb (skill). Older tools often still work for a time (e.g. books), and others work less well (e.g. slide rules). But technology will continue to provide us with better nouns for each of the verbs.

In teaching, our focus needs to be on the verbs, which don’t change very much, and NOT on the nouns (i.e. the technologies) which change rapidly and which are only a means. For teachers to fixate on any particular noun as the “best” way (be it books or blogs, for example) is not good for our students, as new and better nouns will shortly emerge and will continue to emerge over the course of their lifetimes. Our teaching should instead focus on the verbs (i.e. skills)students need to master, making it clear to the students (and to the teachers) that there are many tools learners can use to practice and apply them." (Comment by Marc Prensky)

As I approach this new tool (noun) of wikis, how will I be able to use it to help myself and my students or learning community to develop the important skills (verbs) for life and learning?


Prensky, M. (2009) Comment on The Larger Lessons. Posted July 12, 2009 at

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