Yesterday I introduced my 8th graders to Dipity in Social Studies. We have been working on WW2 and I wanted them to produce a timeline in Dipity where they were to include video clips, texts and photos. They had ten topics to choose from ranging from Nazi-Soviet Pact to Battle of Dunkirk. We had a double lesson and eager to get started we kicked off in the computer room.

DipityDipity is a great tool, but slightly confusing in the beginning and Flash-based. Two challenges that created trouble for me and my class. I had posted the task on the class blog with instructions and my very own Dipity presentation Road to War.

Out of 15 students only 3 students managed to set up an account with Dipity, read the blog entry on the class blog and get started on their Dipity presentation. The rest had either problems with getting the Dipity site to run properly with its Flash features or to understand the task itself. One student wondered if she could sit down and write a straightforward essay in her notebook instead.

What did I learn from this experience?

1. Clear instructions and particularly focus on main objective. What is the purpose of using this utility?

2. Make sure we have a network that can handle several students on the same webpage. (As of now certain websites act sluggish when more than 5 students work on the same page – Google Docs is a notable exception.

The students are getting fairly used to use online resources such as Web 2.0 tools like Google Docs, Blogger and others, but found Dipity somewhat confusing. I still believe that is partly my fault. I could have been more clear on objective and purpose as well as the introduction of Dipity itself.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to try these things out with my students and use the feedback I get from them in terms of what works and what does not works that well. It wasn’t a total disaster, but it was a frustrating experience seeing that my lessons did not go according to plan.

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There has been an explosion of Twitter users the past six months or so, which is interesting. There’s talk of the next big thing, how it is taking over for Facebook and changing the social interaction online and communication. I have used Twitter myself now for three years or so and in the beginning it was a community of three in my sphere and we kept each other updated on trivial details of our lives.

Using Twhirl from my desktop to update.

Using Twhirl from my desktop to update.

It became really useful when I set up a blog for a particular journey in the Caucasus and wanted to add a more realtime update to it other than the weekly blog entry. I embedded my tweets and my blog “came alive” with answers to the ubiquitous question “What are you doing now?” from the road.

Twitter really becomes more valuable the more interesting people you follow. I follow teachers and educators, but also journalists and musicians as well as people within the tech-industry and a nice selection of friends. Arne Krokan coined “thin tweets” and “thick tweets”, which I thought was interesting. It is actually more interesting to answer the Why? than What? in many instances. I particularly enjoy using Tweetsville for finding interesting resources and links, and hopefully share some of my own discoveries.

Twitter is constantly working on improving the expanding population of tweeters.

Twitter is constantly working on improving the expanding population of tweeters.

Surfing and reading up on edublogs across the net I realize that teachers have tried to use Twitter in their teaching, and I am intrigued by it. Nevertheless, I cannot quite see how it can be implemented in my class of ninegraders. I am familiar with Twitter Parties and Events like displayed in the screencast beneath, but I am not sure if I want to pursue it myself in my lessons.

What is true though is that I really benefit personally from the fantastic source of information, knowledge and competence which exists out there in Tweetsville. I have tried to convince others, but many shrug their head and don’t quite see the beauty of it. Personally I find that Facebook has become a dusty old interactive yearbook, whilst Twitter has taken a leap forward and keeps growing in importance to my online life.

Keep tweeting.

Useful guides for meaningful tweeting:
Art of the Tweet
Twitter is Messy

My Twitter name: mortenoddvik

Screenshots from Engrade.com

Screenshots from Engrade.com

This term my colleagues and me have tried out Engrade – an online assessment tool for teachers and educators to file and document grades. As we do not use any digital learning platform as of yet, which I regret, we are as the middle school branch trying out other ways to compile, collect and synchronize our assessment in a more useful and effective manner as well as keeping an easier way to file and search for past records.

Engrade has several features and one of them is to create student accounts and thereby create transparency for students and parents. We have not enabled this feature, and it won’t happen anytime soon before we know more about Engrade in use.

I find that transparency is important, but it should take place in a one-to-one situation and not in a format like Engrade. I do however find Engrade very helpful to stay organised in my grading as I teach several classes in several subjects. I have tried to find other alternatives, but haven’t found any as good as Engrade.

What I find to be one of the biggest challenges as a class teacher is constant reporting, documentation and grading of academic progress and personal developement. It’s very important, but often the systems in place are cumbersome and ineffective. There’s a lot of paper, printing and filing.

The great advantage of a site service like Engrade is to have an all-accessible (encrypted, login-based) place online to keep all your assignments, grades and comments. The built-in formulas for calculating grades are precise mathematically, but one should not leave out the human assessment factor such as behavior, personal progress, efforts etc. When I set my term grades I combine the features of Engrade with my own assessment.

See demo here.

In the recent week I have had the pleasure of taking part  in a social network for Norwegian teachers and educators called del&bruk. Formed by Ingunn and other entrepeneurs it has seen a mushrooming of new members by the day. One of the main issues predominant in discussions are the fear of sharing. The idea is to share your ideas on implementing ICT in your lessons and hopefully find useful ideas that others have posted. I have to admit that I haven’t been good at sharing specific lesson plans yet, but I am however engaged in discussions regarding past or ongoing projects in my own work. This network has given me an ample opportunity to share concerns and enthusiasm about my efforts to implement ICT in my lessons.
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An interesting article at Betchablog addresses the issue with The New Digital Divide and points out the sad fact that the ones who usually find themselves in networks like del&bruk are already into the whole Web 2.0 community and are active in an array of networks from Flickr to Twitter and bookmark using del.icou.us and attend courses in Second Life. There is a distinction between the “will’s” and “will-nots”, and the latter have many excuses why they don’t want to take the plunge. Where does the responsibility lie?

The sole responsibility relies on the individual teacher and his/her willingness to try out new digital applications and technologies in the classroom. This is the case in most schools in Norway and beyond I dare say. Personally I do feel overwhelmed myself with all the possibilities and having actually taken the plunge myself with a trusted colleague we’ve now started blogging, making digital stories and films, producing music and taking advantage of Quizlet in language classes, Tutpup in Maths and Dipity in Social Studies. It does create a lot of extra work, but the experiences we make are valuable lessons to us as teachers and it is very rewarding discussing them with others attempting to do the same in communities like del&bruk.

Life itself is in fact lived in beta, and the most important thing is to take the plunge and try new things. Teachers are often being accused of being conservative, but del&bruk is yet another example of how we do take responsibility and try to change the status of the classroom and bring us into the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how things develop and I hope I will continue to share and participate fervently.

Four days in London have given me some experience with the iPhone as a trusty travel companion. Before departure I was hesitant about dataroaming expences running high, 3G availability and access as well as battery durability. The most useful feature is hands down Google Maps and GPS. Finding the hotel in Bayswater after exiting Queensway Underground Station was a breeze, and the time suggestion from the app was give or take quite on the spot.

Travelling with a Portuguese family it was crucial to find food from home, and finding Portuguese expats’ waterholes and speciality bakeries did also prove impressively easy. I had downloaded the London Tube app fra App Store and with a gliding interface, searchable and touchable, it was great to find the fastest route and navigate the tube on the handheld device. Frommer’s London Guidebook was also downloaded, but was of limited use even though it is a great resource if you want to know more about London’s attractions.

In terms of disappointments I had trouble with mobile networks falling off on several occasions. I did use 3G or free wi-fi if available, but the Auto-functionality proved fruitless searches more than once. This is a tad worrying if you find yourself lost in London suburbs without an oldfashioned map and a sense of direction.

Luckily I am reasonably familiar with London, and combined with the fantastic GPS navigation on the iPhone one is not left to ask around for directions anymore (the worst a man can do). The blue dot was accurate for walking, but I know it would be a different matter for drivers. London is not a place you want to drive though, it’s best for walkers.

My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

My avatar Pip hanging outside of Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Me outside Diginalet.

Last night I signed up for an avatar in Second Life again. I recall having previous experience with it, but after the novelty of virtual flying wore off I did not quite see the value of it. After a tip from Arne Krokan I joined delogbruk this week, a great initiative by Ingunn, where teachers in Norway with interest and competence within ICT aim to share and use their experiences with digital literacy and tools in the classroom.

One of the users on the forum invited all interested to join SL for a dryrun and explore the opportunities within a virtual environment. I signed up and teleported myself to Diginaletdet digitale pennalet – on a pretty island. I, well more accurately, my avatar, found himself in a office environment, inside a building with desks and conference facilities. I met Rammen, another person from delogbruk, and then later Kita – who first invited teachers to come here. I had a nice chat with both of them about the the history of the place and, possibilities and the ideas they had for this place. I also got to know them a bit better.

Emotionally it was fascinating as I experienced many of the similar feelings I would have when meeting new people (albeit it would take some decades before I’ll get to meet them midair flying). I was a bit apprehensive and nervous as well as skeptical – not unlike a conference situation where you do not know anybody. I started the conversation in English – the universal language of the net, and trying to figure out the social code of the place. E.g. Should one fly down to the ground to talk or is it okay to hang up among the clouds and talk standing hanging with ones’ back to each other? What social code exists in a virtual environment like SL?

I have tried to read up a bit on Second Life and in this article – Second Life Improves Real-Life Skills – in Science Daily, I find it particularly interesting how one still needs the social skills to interact with others. But social disabilities such as fear and shyness might stop the person to interact with others in real life. It’s a fine balance here of course, but as the interviews resarcher Ms Grant points out:

“There are not many places we go in the world where we are guaranteed social contact, in real life it is harder and less likely that you will go up to a stranger and start a conversation,” said Ms Grant.

Since the SL experience I have been thinking about how it would be feasable and useful to use SL with students. Topics like identity, culture and communication comes to mind. First though I look forward to participate in discussions in SL with other people in Diginalet – learn and share – and then see where it will lead us.

Today we had a English Writing Day with ninthgraders. We have recently introduced them to the Gmail/Calendar/Docs environment by creating an account for each student. The tasks themselves were posted in a shared document. All they had to do was to create a new document themselves and start writing. They were free to use spellchecker, online dictionaries and other online resources as long as they cited their sources. I know this is possible with Google Footnote, but I haven’t explored it myself yet.

During the test students had problems or questions and they addressed me through the Chat app. This worked seamlessly. Of course, students can also chat with classmates and this can be distracting, but even though it did occur it did not seem to distract, but rather serve as another person to ask.

Taking questions during the test.

Taking questions during the test.

The texts they produced were two to three pages long and the benefits are they all are conform, they are available online (by invitation) and students don’t loose their work.

In terms of improvement I will look definitely continue using Google Docs for creative writing workshops, and even bring in the collaborative element which is the greatest asset of Google Docs.

Lot of ideas to be found over at Ted Barrett’s blog, especially this entry.