Teenagers are so tech savvy right? Wrong! They know lots about certain things and little about others. That has been my experience and frustrations over the past week as I work on my learning project with two grade eight classes. Unfortunately the exposure my grade eight students have had to networked learning and some of the key tools like blogs and YouTube have been minimal. The have a good understanding of what a positive digital footprint is and how to sift reasonably well through information on the internet, but beyond that their technological literacy and social media literacy is low. Yes, they are very savvy at Snapchat, Instagram, and texting with various messaging apps, but they do not even know how to use email and their typing skills are lacking.
Okay, what is the problem? They’re good at the things they see relevance in because they engage with that technology on a daily basis. My students know what email is, but they never use it as communication tool like the adult/ business world does so my abilities in emailing is above theirs. Made me feel somewhat smart with technology! Technological literacy is the nuts and bolts of knowing how to use the technology, but also how to use it effectively to communicate and learn with and from others. I knew that we would have to spend some time with the nuts and bolts or more technical aspects, but what I discovered over the past week is that we had to slow this process down. Before we can get to building a learning network and get into the content of the course, we have to know how to use the tools at our fingertips. My goal is that as we work through this project, my students will see how fun using these tools can be as well as the relevance to their learning. I hope this then hooks them into using networked learning and digital media tools beyond my class.
This past week we spent considerable time learning about the importance of developing a user-friendly personal learning environment (PLE) and we created WordPress accounts. All of my students have created a PLE using Symbaloo as their organizer. Here they have started to set up all of the bookmarks or widgets that organize and give them quick access to the tools that we will use such as various search tools, databases, and social media tools. They have also personalized this space with their own themes and added bookmarks to appeal to their own interests. Key tools we added to their PLE`s included our class blog, their own blog, Wikipedia, and YouTube.
Some of the CHALLENGES & LEARNINGS that we worked through as we developed our PLE`s and blogs:
- students’ abilities with digital technology vary based on what and how much they use it outside of school
- no one was familiar with blogging or a PLE
- setting up a PLE was quite easy for most- except those that did not know their email address because they never use it
- remembering which email address, your password & Symbaloo password is important
- email is a secure way to validate user accounts (Symbaloo, WordPress, etc.)
- student email now serves a purpose- to activate accounts, reset accounts if they forget usernames or passwords. Email as a communication/ networking tool will become even more relevant as they use it to view comments & pingbacks to their blogs. We have yet to set this up
- Choosing domain names for WordPress was a lot of fun and so was remembering what the difference is between domain name, username and password!!!
- Those that used the same thing for their domain and username made things easier for themselves
- Learning partners are awesome-they support each other with the technical glitches that arise (i.e. resetting passwords via email links) or with steps one of them forgot during my lessons on using Symbaloo or WordPress
- going STEP by STEP through the basics of using WordPress is critical- then those that catch on faster can help support those that are stuck
- online identities for students can be a bit tricky depending on their age and the comfort level of their parents- however educating both on how to be safe has alleviated almost all concerns with students using digital media and online networking to learn
- spelling counts- you mean my URL or that link won’t work if I make one little mistake (no sarcasm, this really was a learning experience for some)
Before we created WordPress accounts and started to learned about the technical parts of setting up a blog, we looked at various samples of classroom and individual student blogs. Edublogs Teacher Challenges is an excellent resource for teachers to learn about personal blogging, blogging with students, and building PLN’s. These student blog challenge walks teachers through 11 key steps to setting up student blogs in a breeze. Also helpful is the videos and sample blogs that you can share with your students before you begin. I shared some of these along with Carla’s classroom blog Cooper Science as a great example of a classroom blog that links all student’s individual blogs to it and provides clear directions via blog posts. This video from the 11th step was helpful for my students before beginning:
My hope is that by the end of the next week, we will have mastered the basics of WordPress and that all students will have personalized their blog, created a bit of an online identity that is positive, and create a blog post or two. I have found it very helpful to project the steps I go through on the classroom screen, but also post these steps or directions for our learning project on our classroom blog. Check it out if you’re interested in how we got started.
I also have the objectives and steps for the learning project in more detail on a Google doc that is bookmarked in my Symbaloo and updated as we go. This doc will be helpful in applying a learning project in another classroom setting, while the individual blog posts I put on the class blog are specific to this project. Our classroom blog links all of the students’ individual blogs so I can follow their work and provide feedback as well as students being able to network and learn from one another.
Goal for next week: finish the technical set-up and practicing on WordPress and have students create their first post.