March 2009


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.

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.
Top View
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.